Republican Leadership Conference kicks off

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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Top Republicans will flock to New Orleans today for the Republican Leadership Conference, where presidential hopefuls and GOP leaders will try to woo the party faithful during the three-day event.

The annual conference, formerly the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, has become a bellwether for the Republican Party, especially because of its audience straw polls. Presidential candidates speaking this year include Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. (DNC chair looking forward to working with Republicans now, beating the crap out of them later)

“We’re very excited to have so many conservative candidates, elected officials, and thinkers with us in New Orleans,” said Aaron Baer, spokesman for the Louisiana GOP. “The RLC should give our party an excellent opportunity to showcase both current and future stars of the conservative movement.”

Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty will not attend, nor will possible candidate Sarah Palin. But there will be no lack of narratives driving the conference.

Romney’s absence will give the other candidates the opportunity to take shots at him. Romney’s opponents avoided taking swipes at him during the New Hampshire debate on Monday, but they may not be as civil in front of the party faithful.

Texas Governor Rick Perry will also give what will likely be a highly anticipated speech. Buzz around a possible White House bid by Perry has built steadily in the last two weeks after several of his former staffers jumped ship from Newt Gingrich’s campaign.

Speaking of which, Gingrich will try to give his campaign a much-needed lift at the conference. Gingrich’s campaign has been beleaguered by low poll numbers, slipping donations and staff resignations, not to mention several less-than-favorable news reports.

Today’s speakers include Gingrich, Johnson, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Erick Erickson, founder of the blog Redstate.

C.J. Ciaramella