ABC's Julie Percha reports: As the 37th annual CPAC wound down its first day with the Presidential Banquet at D.C.’s Washington Marriott Wardman Park, the chic XPAC lounge – located just down the hall – provided an evening haven for younger conservatives: suave black and white leather couches, pumping house techno music, games and free food galore.
But perhaps more striking were the attractions which were missing from the scene during Thursday evening’s EPIC Night at XPAC: panelist Meghan McCain, daughter of Arizona Sen. John McCain, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who was to make a "special appearance" at the event.
Both the XPAC Web site and the printed schedule sheet which CPAC attendees received listed a Q-and-A session with the political headliners, in addition to Huckabee’s daughter, 27-year-old Sarah.
But this might have been news to McCain, who flatly denied her plans to be a panelist in a Feb. 11 post to her Twitter page.
“I will NOT be attending CPAC or XPAC, anyone advertising that is incorrect. I have no idea where this all started but it is not happening,” she tweeted.
Mike Huckabee was present in spirit, addressing the XPAC attendees from a pre-recorded video from New York City. He credited his TV obligation with FOX News as the reason for his absence.
During his four-minute video, Huckabee challenged the young attendees to become involved in the political process as a means of impacting future generations.
“You’ve got a lot more to lose and a lot more at stake in the political outcomes than I’ll ever have,” Huckabee said, noting the age difference between himself and the XPAC attendees, who are under 30. “That’s a whole lot more of your life that the government can really mess up your future.”
Sarah Huckabee – whose father praised as “a political activist” and fervent pro-lifer – warned in a live speech that a conservative victory is not a matter of winning Congress, but of shifting the culture.
“Just because we’ve got a lot of momentum and energy, it’s not going to be an easy year, and it’s not going to be an easy election cycle,” she said.
Huckabee was also quick to offer her endorsement for Marco Rubio, a 2010 Senate contender in Florida who supported Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential bid.
“I’m a big fan,” she said of Rubio. “I think he’s the future of our party, and I think there are a lot of people out there that have been hungry for people in leadership like him.”
Huckabee was joined by FOX News reporter Andrea Tantaros, and as the pair fielded panel questions, they touched upon such topics as sexism in politics and regrets of the past.
“I might have gone to class a little more in college,” Huckabee joked. “Don’t tell my dad. This isn’t recorded, is it?”
Adding to the list of surprise appearances to this year’s CPAC was John Loughlin, a Republican candidate for Congress in Rhode Island.
Loughlin was set to challenge Democratic incumbent Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who announced last week that he will not seek re-election to a ninth term.
But Loughlin said the open seat is not a reason to slow his campaign efforts.
“We’re going to be running just as hard if not harder,” he said, emphasizing his objective of “defeat[ing] the Kennedy machine.”
Loughlin also fielded two questions from the audience, adding his support to Fair Tax only if the 16th Amendment — the federal income tax — is repealed first.