CPAC Conference Tangled in Controversy Over Gay Conservative Group


"Our business is to bring together everyone who's under the conservative umbrella," Keene said in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday. "It's like Reagan said, if you're 80 percent with me, you're with me."

That approach has earned Keene some high-profile enemies within the ranks of the social conservative movement.

Sen. DeMint's spokesman released a statement late last month saying, "With leading conservative organizations not participating this year, Senator DeMint will not be attending. He hopes to attend a unified CPAC next year."

Other prominent elected officials, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have declined invitations to speak at this year's convention. Neither Christie nor Rubio, who delivered a keynote speech to the conference in 2010, said their decision had anything to do with GOProud's involvement.

And many other leading conservatives will be there: Potential 2012 GOP candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Mitch Daniels, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., will all address the conference. Also on the agenda: CPAC's annual presidential straw poll, a non-scientific but always interesting gauge of support among conservative activists heading into the next election cycle.

This will be Keene's last CPAC as chairman of the American Conservative Union. He is taking over as president of the National Rifle Association in April.

He said he stands by his belief that this year's controversy amounts to little more than "tempests in a Washington tea pot," as he put it, and alluded to a slow but steady evolution in the attitudes of Republicans on the issue of gay rights.

"Frankly," he said, "I think you've got a lot of people on the social right, in particular, who feel frustrated because generational views of gay issues are changing."

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