CPAC 2013 - Why It Matters, Who's Going, What We Will Learn From It

PHOTO: 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference

Today marks the start of a three-day gathering of conservative leaders and activists from around the country. The Conservative Political Action Conference -- CPAC, for short -- is organized by the American Conservative Union and has become an annual focal point that brings together establishment figures, new leaders, grassroots types and, in particular, the younger generation of conservatives. It kicks off this morning at the Gaylord National Hotel in National Harbor, Md., just outside Washington, D.C.

We'll be covering the speeches and panels extensively, and here's a quick guide about what we can expect:

WHO'S GOING: A whole lot of big-name speakers such as Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul and many more. Numerous other lawmakers from Capitol Hill will also address the gathering and attendees will also have a chance to hear from a host of unelected officials who play a prominent role on policy and other matters within the conservative orbit: the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre, American Crossroads head Steven Law, American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and Heritage Foundation President and former Sen. Jim DeMint.

WHO'S NOT GOING: The two most-talked-about names who don't have speaking slots at this year's CPAC conference are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (although McDonnell plans to participate in a prayer breakfast associated with the conference on Friday morning). American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas did not mince words about why Christie was not invited this year: "This past year he strongly advocated for the passage of a $60-plus billion pork barrel bill, containing only $9 billion in disaster assistance and he signed up with the federal government to expand Medicaid at a time when his state can ill afford it, so he was not invited to speak. ... Hopefully, he will be back in top form next year. We would be delighted to invite him again in that case." Nevertheless, the exclusion of politicians like Christie and McDonnell and the inclusion of someone like Donald Trump has already led some conservative pundits to declare that "CPAC is dead." There are other big names who will be absent too, including House Speaker John Boehner, Arizona Sen, and former GOP nominee John McCain, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and more. Click Here for ABC's Chris Good's compiled list of the "13 Top Republican You Won't See At CPAC."

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