3 Reasons Why CPAC Is 'American Idol' For Political Nerds



  • DO YOU CPAC? The Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, will draw almost all of the Republican Party's likely presidential contenders to the Washington, DC area over the next three days. They're each given 20 minutes to pitch their vision for country to the Republican Party faithful. At the end, the conference attendees - conservatives from all over the U.S. - will crown the winner of the CPAC straw poll. As ABC's ERIN DOOLEY points out, basically, it's "American Idol" for political nerds: http://abcn.ws/1ALtxj9
  • THE CONTESTANTS: Like "Idol," CPAC is essentially a big casting call, a chance for the Republican base to preview candidates' stump speeches before the 2016 cycle officially begins. This year's headliners include almost all of the 2016 contenders, including Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum. (Donald Trump will also speak, as will Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre).
  • THE JUDGES: Remember watching "Idol" contestants squirm under Simon Cowell's skeptical eye? That's basically the feeling you'll get when you see Fox News' Sean Hannity question former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush about common core onstage at CPAC. That will happen tomorrow.
  • AND THE WINNER IS: Just as with "Idol," audience participation is encouraged at CPAC. The grand finale is the straw poll reveal Saturday evening - the results of an informal ballot asking attendees who they'd vote for to be president. Last year, Sen. Rand Paul won handily, garnering 31 percent of the vote, a full 20 points ahead of the first runner-up, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But keep in mind: Only a few CPAC straw poll winners have gone on to become the party's nominee - but it can help demonstrate momentum and attract donors, crucial in the early stages of this presidential cycle. http://abcn.ws/1ALtxj9


ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: CPAC kicks off today and while all the headliners will have a somewhat different message to the conservative attendees, one similar topic you can expect to hear is a heavy dosing of media bashing. Last night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got a head start on his monthly radio call-in show, "Ask the Governor." Host Eric Scott asked Christie about his rough trip overseas earlier this month and the potential 2016 presidential candidate laid the blame squarely with the press. "You have the national media following you around trying to justify their air fare going over there," he said. As for the vaccine question that exploded he stressed he was a "complete supporter of the mandatory vaccinations that we have in this state," but "parents have to have a role and a voice in those mandates to make sure that everybody understands why something is being mandated" and it was the press who got the answer misconstrued. As for the New York Times story that broke while he was away detailing his affection for luxe travel, Christie answered, "Are we shocked the New York Times does this? This is the New York Times who has already decided to endorse Hillary Clinton for president I'm sure and so anyone who raises their head on the Republican side and looks as if if they ran they might be a threat the New York Times is going to after them and that's what that was all about." He added that "everything I do is cleared by ethics folks before I do it," and finally about those stories just last week that said he's having trouble fundraising? "I don't worry about that stuff, Eric I'll be just fine. Let's just put this way nobody should be out there worried about me."

ABC's RICK KLEIN: They've all got something to prove. The dozen or so presidential hopefuls scheduled to address the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday and Friday arrive at National Harbor at a tense moment for Washington. The Department of Homeland Security's budget runs out before the conference ends; GOP lawmakers are threatening imprisonment for local DC officials over a new pot law; the Supreme Court takes up the latest Obamacare challenge next week, potentially creating a careful-what-you-wish-for moment for the GOP. The 2016ers, for their part, face challenges at once more immediate and very long-term. Scott Walker has to live up to the early hype - and turn some rough press scrutiny to his advantage, if he can. Chris Christie has to show a political pulse - much as he did a year ago on the same stage, in the wake of Bridgegate. Even Donald Trump has to prove, well, that he's not just being Donald Trump. Then there's Jeb Bush - the putative frontrunner, but one who has not faced down real questions on the policy positions that leave him most vulnerable in a Republican primary. A few boos would go a long way toward injecting skepticism over his prospects.



WEED THE PEOPLE: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT POT LEGALIZATION IN WASHINGTON, DC. The citizens of the District of Columbia in November voted to pass Initiative 71, which legalized the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and the cultivation of up to three marijuana plants for individuals over the age of 21. That measure took effect at midnight. However, the initiative did not create funding for the regulation of the substance, which would be required to legalize sales. The measure was put on the ballot through citizen initiative, and in D.C., citizen initiatives cannot mandate spending. ABC's A.J. FEATHER highlights key points you need to know about the initiative and what it allows and doesn't allow. http://abcn.ws/1Fw80f7

NOTED: PELOSI REITERATES SUPPORT FOR DC'S AUTHORITY TO IMPLEMENT INITIATIVE 71. In a written statement last night, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reiterated her belief that the DC government has legal authority to implement the voter initiative regarding recreational marijuana use. Pelosi rejects threats from certain congressional Republicans, according to ABC's JOHN PARKINSON. "It is very troubling that Republicans would threaten elected District officials for implementing the measure resoundingly passed by the District of Columbia's voters," Pelosi said.

EX-HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARIES, EVEN THE REPUBLICANS, BLAST CONGRESS OVER DHS FUNDING IMPASSE. In the latest rhetorical salvo over funding for the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Jeh Johnson stood shoulder-to-shoulder yesterday with two of his Republican predecessors, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, blasting Congress for threatening DHS funding. Ridge was equally blunt in his assessment of Congress, despite expressing strong opposition to President Obama's executive order on immigration, saying the president "has gravely overstepped his constitutional authority," ABC's JACK DATE writes. "I don't think we right that wrong on the backs of the patriots that go to work every day and provide safety and security every day at the department of homeland security," Ridge, the first DHS secretary from 2003 to 2005 under President George W. Bush, said. "What I don't think makes sense is to hold the entire set of operations at the Department of Homeland Security in abeyance, as a hostage as the legislative branch starts to play a game of chicken with the president," Chertoff, Bush's second DHS secretary from 2005 to 2009, said. http://abcn.ws/17A6ldp SHOULD YOU BE WORRIED ABOUT A DHS SHUTDOWN? It depends who you are, and how long the shutdown lasts. http://abcn.ws/1JMkIg3

EMBATTLED 'DOWNTON ABBEY' CONGRESSMAN AARON SCHOCK HIRES LAWYERS, PR PROS. "Am I supposed to applaud you for poking round in my things?" Rep. Aaron Schock, who has come under fire for his spending on office décor, as well as eyebrow-raising travel spending, has hired a team of lawyers from the Washington, D.C., firm Jones Day, ABC's AMY SAPP and JOHN PARKINSON report. He has also hired communications operatives, Ron Bonjean and Brian Walsh - both veteran congressional aides - to help the congressman respond to his recent troubles. "After questions were first raised in the press, Congressman Schock took the proactive step of assembling a team to review the compliance procedures in his official office, campaign and leadership PAC to determine whether they can be improved," a spokesperson for Schock told ABC News. "Congressman Schock takes his compliance obligations seriously which is why he took this proactive step to review these procedures." http://abcn.ws/1BwchBK

POLITICIANS BECOME CATS WITH ARTIST'S TOUCH. An Oklahoma artist's not kitten around when he says he wants to draw a cat version of all 100 U.S. senators. Anthony Pego, an Oklahoma City artist, last week started posting on his website drawings of politicians as cats, giving whiskers and fur to pols ranging from the Senate majority leader to an Oklahoma representative. Pego, 36, typically creates metal jewelry, but the colder winter temperatures make that process more difficult this time of year, he said. So he drew Oklahoma's U.S. senators, the governor and a district representative - clad in suits, posing before flags, and with whiskers sprouting from their cheeks, ABC's BEN GITTLESON writes. http://abcn.ws/1LE4z84


TEXAS GOV. GREG ABBOTT SAYS CONSTITUTION TRUMPS 'COMPASSION' FOR UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told ABC News the Constitution trumps "compassion" for undocumented immigrants. In an exclusive interview with ABC News inside the ornate governor's mansion in Austin, Texas, Abbott, whose federal lawsuit stopped President Obama's executive action protecting millions from deportation, admitted he has no solution for what to do with the 11 million undocumented people living and working in the United States today. He said that's not his responsibility, its President Obama's, according to ABC's JIM AVILA and SERENA MARSHALL. "As the governor of Texas, I don't have the luxury of making that decision. That is the job of the United States Congress and the president," Abbott said. "And [that is] the reason why we have this lawsuit." http://abcn.ws/1ArURnt


@CPACnews: Follow us on SnapChat to see all the behind the scenes action at #CPAC2015 pic.twitter.com/p0cEzXQQyI

@rollcall: Vulnerable GOP Senators Plan to Steer Clear of CPAC http://roll.cl/1DVaa9h via @CahnEmily

@stevebruskCNN: Huckabee, who is skipping CPAC this year, will be in Nashville addressing the religious broadcasters convention tonight.

@JessicaTaylor: #CPAC2015 could make or break Rubio: fell to 7th last yr in straw poll after immigration. My column on his task: http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/233902-cpac-could-make-or-break-rubio …

@davecatanese: On @usnews Thursday morning: How to survive #CPAC2015 http://goo.gl/Pw4cL0 #TheRun2016