Conservative rising star Marco Rubio, was undoubtedly the star of the day. The 39-year old son of Cuban immigrants is locked in a tight battle for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in Florida. Gov. Charlie Crist, who has much of the official Republican Party establishment support, has been running slightly behind Rubio in recent polls there.
Rubio, as expected, delivered a speech charged with anti-Obama administration rhetoric as he kicked off the convention. The former Florida state House speaker panned Obama on all fronts, from health care to energy legislation to national security.
"From the tea parties to the election in Massachusetts, we are witnessing the greatest single pushback in American history," Rubio declared.
"2010 is not just a choice between Republicans and Democrats. It's not just a choice between liberals and conservatives. 2010 is a referendum on the very identity of our nation," he added as he portrayed Obama's policies, without mentioning by him name, of that like a socialist country like the one his parents fled.
Rubio has become widely known as the "tea party senator" after a Time magazine cover questioned whether Washington would see the first representation from the tea party, a grassroots organization against big government and spending.
Both Rubio and Sen. Jim Demint, R-S.C., made fun of Obama's use of teleprompters, even though both themselves were behind one.
The 37th annual CPAC convention is charting new waters, hoping to capture the sentiment of the tea party while also shining the spotlight on its regular speakers.
DeMint today took a jab not just at Democrats but at his own party members as well and those who do not "take their constitutional oath seriously."
"I'd rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who believe in the principles rather than 60 who don't believe in anything," DeMint told attendees.
"I'd rather have 30 Marco Rubios in the Senate than 60 Arlen Specters," he added, referring to the senator from Pennsylvania who switched from the GOP to the Democratic caucus last year.
Before speeches by Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the de facto leader of the tea party movement and its biggest defender, Dick Armey, took the stage.
But the one name missing from the program is Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor and keynote speaker at the first tea party convention earlier this month turned down an invitation to speak.
To build on the same kind of energy that propelled Barack Obama to the presidency, CPAC organizers are going out of their way to target younger members. There's a "Reaganpalooza" at a Capitol Hill bar and CPAC is featuring an "XPAC" for "x-treme politically active conservatives."
"This year's CPAC may matter more than most. The timing is perfect," former House speaker Newt Gingrich wrote in an op-ed in today's Washington Times. "There is no better time for the conservative movement to remind elected officials of the key values and principles that have made America great."
House Minority leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, talked about the changing landscape and how today's GOP leaders can govern differently than previous Democrats and Republicans.