Washington DC - I arrived at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, around 9:30 a.m. People snaked around turnstiles waiting to get their badges certifying they had paid the $195 adult entrance fee.
Upstairs, the student line was much longer. They only had to pay $35. It's important to get young blood into the Grand Old Party.
They had paid to see the stars of the conservative movement. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt, Marco Rubio, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, even Sarah Palin has come out of hibernation and is scheduled to speak on Saturday.
There was talk of an Occupy infiltration and the finely dressed attendants were on the lookout. One man, wearing a cowboy hat and wielding a digital camera approached a police officer outside, "have you seen any occupiers?" he asked. "No," the officer responded.
Around noon I was sitting in a chair near the VIP room. Rick Perry was scheduled to speak at 1:20 p.m. in the Marriott ballroom. Three tall white men wearing suits and earbuds were seated across from me. One was standing. They briefly discussed security.
"I asked him if he wanted a walkthrough... and he said, 'I'm drunk, I don't care,'" said the older looking gentleman, who had apparently talked to the person he was securing.
Another one said, "Thanks for taking one for the team Rick."
After Perry gave his speech I attempted to ask him if he preferred bourbon or scotch, but he ignored me.
At the beginning of the day, I started off at an event called "How to raise money... the easy way" put on by the Leadership Institute, a Republican training organization.
The speaker, Joel Mowbray, told the audience of mostly young men that "You make up a lot of ground with one $10,000 donation."
He said that there's no such thing as altruism and when a big donor cuts a big check the donor is looking for access.
"Asking for money bestows a level of credibility onto the campaign," said Mowbry, "It says I believe in my campaign." He told the audience the only two things a candidate should be doing is asking for money or asking for votes. Noted.
From there, I went to the massive Marriott Ballroom, which has been adorned with giant television screens, a huge stage and thousands of chairs, all filled, for Marco Rubio's speech.
The Florida Senator took the stage to loud applause. He made a speech about American Exceptionalism, how important it is that the U.S. remains the most powerful country in the world, a point Republicans often make.
"What happens if we diminish because we can no longer be the greatest country in the world?" asked Rubio.
"The greatest thing we can do for the world is be America," said Rubio. He added that we have to be an example for other countries, "the shining city on the Hill" he said, quoting Reagan, who took the line "city on a hill" from the Bible and made it shiny.
Reagan symbolism is all over CPAC. Pictures of him hang in the main lobby, stickers of his face are handed out and many speakers tied their speeches back to him.
Male CPAC attendees almost universally wore suits and females wore dresses. There were booths for ALEC, Tea Party.net, Hot Air, the NRA, Citizens United Productions, the Washington Examiner and Newt 2012, among others. One booth was selling Santorum sweaters. Surprisingly, I didn't see any Ron Paul supporters, despite the fact that his fans rushed the event last year to give him a strong victory in the 2011 CPAC straw poll.
I saw a number of people sporting Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum stickers, but I didn't see one person outwardly supporting Mitt Romney. In fact, during one speech in the Marriott Ballroom a speaker mentioned Mitt Romney and a female in the audience yelled out, "Mexican!"
In another room, much smaller than the Marriott Ballroom, I attended a panel discussion on labor unions. At this one, four men discussed the repeal of SB5 in Ohio, Scott Walker's actions in Wisconsin and heaped praise on Chris Christie. I arrived a little late, but I caught the gist of the conversation.
"I don't think revolution is too big of a word to use to describe what Chris Christie is doing," said Kevin Mooney, a reporter for the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, 'the leading voice for free markets in Louisiana.'
F. Vincent Vernuccio, a speaker from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said that after the repeal of SB5, an-anti collective bargaining bill, Ohio would have to build a Berlin-style wall to keep people in. He said they'd flock to Indiana and Wisconsin, two states that have fought unions.
He said the failure in Ohio was the messaging, "We have to get our messaging together, we have to get our funding together and we have to break up the bills."
I walked out and went up the escalator to get a late afternoon lunch. As I rode the escalator up, Hot Air was interviewing Michelle Bachmann. She was in an all white dress.
As I was leaving I caught this guy talking about the tea party: