The first day of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference raised more questions about the direction of the conservative movement than it answered.
Despite attempts to unify since the party’s devastating 2012 presidential loss, rifts clearly remain within the GOP and were on display as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took the stage to a chilly reception.
Some of the conservative movement’s most galvanizing issues clearly haven’t lost their potency, however. ObamaCare, Benghazi and the IRS scandal provided Thursday’s speakers with some of their most reliable applause lines.
But others were notably absent from the discussion. Speakers made scant reference to abortion or gay marriage, two issues typically central to social conservatives.
The party heads into the next two days of the conference still looking for its breakout star. Conservative faces both new, like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and old, like Donald Trump, took the stage, but none laid a clear claim to the conservative mantle for 2016.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas): "You want to lose elections, stand for nothing. ... We will bring back morning in America. That's why we're here and that's the future for the young and everybody else in this country.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): “President Obama and the Democratic Senate have literally failed working families.”
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.): "I don't see this great divide in our party. What I see is a vibrant debate ... for the most part, these disagreements have not been over policies or principles — they've been over tactics. So I think we should give each other the benefit of the doubt."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): “There is only one nation on earth capable of rallying and bringing together the free people on this planet to stand up to the spread of totalitarianism. There is only one nation on earth that can do that, and that is ours."
Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.): "To President Carter, I want to issue a sincere apology. It is no longer fair to say he was the worst president of this country in my lifetime. President Obama has proven me wrong," he said.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton: “Ignoring threats to our national security is the Obama doctrine.”
NRA’s Wayne LaPierre: “In this uncertain world, surrounded by lies and corruption everywhere you look, there is no greater freedom than the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns and handguns we want."
TOMORROW’S CPAC AGENDA
9 a.m., Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas)
9:15 a.m., Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
10:20 a.m., former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.)
11:15 a.m., Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed
2:25 p.m., former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.)
2:50 p.m., Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
KOCH BUST: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched “Addicted to Koch!,” the Democrats’ latest effort to tie the conservative Koch brothers and their money to GOP Senate candidates. Their new campaign will feature online ads, social media and news alerts. “Republicans will pay a price in 2014 for their unshakable allegiance to the Koch Brothers,” said the DSCC’s Justin Barasky.
LA-SEN: Louisiana Republican Senate candidate Rob Maness, challenging Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), is already outpacing his fourth-quarter fundraising haul, when he brought in $240,000. His campaign tells The Hill that he raised half that in January alone, and by Feb. 24, the campaign raised more than its overall fourth-quarter sum with more than a month left in the first quarter of the year. Speaking at CPAC, Maness told The Hill he's on track with his fundraising and is confident he'll have enough money to pull ahead in the race, where he's vying with two other Republicans — including establishment pick Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) — for the position as the GOP alternative to Landrieu.
KY-SEN: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) received a lukewarm reception from conservatives gathered for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, despite delivering a speech full of conservative red meat.
And McConnell’s primary challenger, Matt Bevin, released a new 60-second radio ad on Thursday, touting his endorsement from conservative radio talk show host Mandy Connell. “When Mitch McConnell went to the Senate, pork was king. Things are different now. We are broke and we know it, and we need people who are willing to go to D.C. and change things,” Connell says in the ad.
NE-SEN: FreedomWorks has endorsed former state Treasurer Shane Osborn in the competitive GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), but it might not mind if Midland University President Ben Sasse wins the nomination either. The group’s president, Matt Kibbe, said during a Wednesday appearance on Glenn Beck’s radio show that conservatives are facing a “win-win” situation between the two candidates, noting that Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) endorsed Sasse on Tuesday.
IA-SEN: A Des Moines Register/Selzer & Co. poll shows GOP Senate candidates still have a lot of work to do to introduce themselves in the Hawkeye State. With all candidates still largely unknown, longtime Iowa politics observer David Yepsen told the Register that “this is one of the most obscure U.S. Senate fields in recent Iowa political history.”
NC-SEN: Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) endorsed Tea Party candidate Greg Brannon (R), giving him a potential boost against the establishment favorite, North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis (R). “Greg Brannon is dedicated to enacting a conservative reform agenda in Congress. He is willing to challenge the status quo and entrenched special interests,” Lee said. Brannon will also have a fundraising event at CPAC with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who endorsed him early in the race.
NH-SEN: Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has expanded her lead to 13 points over potential rival Scott Brown in the New Hampshire Senate race, according to a new poll. A Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll released Thursday found Shaheen leading with 52 percent of likely voters, compared to Brown's 39 percent.
MI-SEN: Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) has replaced his campaign manager, bringing in Paul Tencher, who ran Sen. Joe Donnelly’s (D-Ind.) come-from-behind 2012 campaign, sources tell The Hill. Democrats have been getting increasingly nervous about how Peters’s campaign has been run and his chances in the swing state.
BATTLE FOR THE HOUSE
AZ-09: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) will run for reelection to her current seat, ending speculation over whether she’d switch to a much easier race in a neighboring, open district. Her Thursday announcement gives Democrats reason to breathe a sigh of relief. If she had switched to run in the neighboring 7th District, the party would've been left without a strong contender for the open seat.
CA-17: The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund endorsed Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) in his primary challenge from Commerce Department official Ro Khanna. “For more than a decade, Congressman Mike Honda has been a champion for clean air and water, and fighting to protect our environment for future generations,” said LCV Action Fund President Gene Karpinski.
FL-13: Democrat Alex Sink brought her likable dad, Kester Sink, out again in a new ad in which he answers “all the nasty things Washington is saying about my daughter.” “I know Alex is a big girl, she can defend herself,” he says, and declares that Sink “always did know how to solve problems. Got that from her mom.” Sink is facing Republican David Jolly in a tight special election with no clear front-runner just four days out from Election Day.
NY-21: Democratic candidate Aaron Woolf “has remained out of the public eye for three weeks since his endorsement by his party's county chairs” for the competitive open seat to succeed retiring Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.), the Adirondack Daily Enterprise reports. Woolf has rebuffed interviews and only read a “short, prepared speech” last month, saying he was more of a "press release kind of guy."
TX-04: One of Rep. Ralph Hall’s (R-Texas) primary challengers has endorsed him against former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe (R) in their runoff election.
BE PREPARED: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in an interview with The Nation that he’s taking a serious look at running for president in 2016. “I am prepared to run for president of the United States. I don't believe that I am the only person out there who can fight this fight, but I am certainly prepared to look seriously at that race,” he said in an interview.
CHRISTIE ALSO RISES: Stakes were high for Chris Christie in his CPAC speech as he addressed a typically hostile crowd. But a strong performance was especially critical at a time when his political future is perhaps the most uncertain it’s ever been, as he grapples with an ongoing investigation into the George Washington Bridge scandal that has rocked his administration. He seemed to exceed expectations, receiving an enthusiastic response from the ballroom full of activists, entering and exiting the stage to a standing ovation and whoops from the crowd.
GRAHAM'S SLAM: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday questioned the presidential credentials of Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for supporting legislation to take military sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. Graham took aim at the potential Republican 2016 candidates after the Senate defeated a bill that would have taken the decision to prosecute major criminal cases away from military commanders.
Please send tips and comments to Campaign Editor Jessica Taylor, email@example.com; and Campaign Staff Writers Cameron Joseph, firstname.lastname@example.org; and Alexandra Jaffe, email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter: @JessicaTaylor @cam_joseph and @ajjaffe.