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Conservatives optimistic American voters with them |

Conservatives optimistic American voters with them

Salena Zito
| Saturday, February 20, 2010 12:00 a.m

WASHINGTON — Conservatives meeting here Friday expressed optimism with influencing upcoming elections and the country’s direction, noting a growing conservative mood among Americans and politically involved young people.

Unlike some “tea party” events, where people have expressed anger or frustration with government, many who gathered for the Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual conference appeared eager to share ideas between visits to seminars and information booths. Thousands of young people mingling in the Marriott Wardman Park lent an almost festival-type atmosphere to the exhibit hall.

Attendees said traditional principles such as reducing government spending and taxation dominated discussions.

“If you are busy fixing problems, you don’t have time for anger,” said anti-tax icon Grover Norquist.

Organizers anticipated up to 10,000 people for the three-day CPAC event, which opened Thursday in the Marriott located a few miles from the Capitol. Many attendees appeared to be under age 30.

Fox News personality Glenn Beck was booked for tonight’s keynote address, delivered last year by talk-radio personality Rush Limbaugh. Critics have labeled both media giants as spokesmen for the Republican Party.

“I enjoy them both,” said Jonathan Klingler, 25, a graduate student at the University of Rochester in New York. “But I don’t see them as leaders of the Republican Party. They provide conservative information in an entertaining way.”

The CPAC conference, held since President Richard Nixon was in office, provides conservatives a venue for self-evaluation. It is the ultimate “inside baseball” political event, said University of Virginia political analyst Isaac Wood.

“The average American has no idea what it even stands for, but the conference is an opportunity for conservative leaders to network and coordinate,” Wood said. “Whenever the Republican Party is surging, the event is a happy one — and this year demonstrates that perfectly.”

But, he acknowledged: “Whether the party will last until election day isn’t yet known.”

A recent Gallup Poll asked people to identify themselves as conservative, moderate or liberal in thinking. Nationally, 40 percent said they regard themselves as conservatives; 36 percent said they are moderates; 21 percent, liberals.

“There are more booths here than at a state fair,” said Daniel Cord, 41, of Shaker Heights, Ohio, who grew up in Indiana, Pa.

Cord, who develops technology to aid conservative candidates, provided newly elected Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts with the means to conduct live phone banks in the final two weeks of his campaign. Brown’s win in a Democratic stronghold represented for decades by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy shocked some Americans who thought that conservative ranks were lessening.

Public perception is that conservatives tend to be old, white men, Cord said.

“That could not be further from the truth,” he said. “Just look at the amount of young people here getting involved, attending workshops and listening to policy briefings.”

Workshop topics included grassroots organizing, public speaking and effective use of technology in campaigns.

Speakers included such conservative notables as syndicated columnist George Will, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Former Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a surprise speech.

A similar annual conference for liberals, Netroots Nation, typically draws top leaders of the Democratic Party. At a Netroots convention in August in Pittsburgh, former President Bill Clinton, former party Chairman Howard Dean and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett spoke to 1,600 attendees.

“The biggest difference, (besides) ideology, is that we hold ours outside of Washington and make the leaders come to us,” said Adam Bonin, chairman of Netroots Nation.

Both the CPAC and Netroots conventions typically “draw activists committed not just to ideology but to winning elections as well,” said Wood, the political analyst.

Two former elected officials who are seeking higher offices — former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth — said they plan to capitalize on the energy the CPAC conference generated.

“I have been thrilled with the encouragement,” said Hayworth, who last week announced he will try to unseat Republican Sen. John McCain.

Santorum has said he is toying with a run for president in 2012.

“Ideas, jobs and national security — if conservatives continue on those principles, not just being against the Democrats, then they stand a great chance in the 2010 (elections),” Santorum said.

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