The word "carnival" is not represented in the acronym CPAC, but at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, a festive atmosphere prevailed despite the current state of America's conservative movement. The fact that Democrats are currently in charge of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue seemed to revitalize the record gathering of more than 8,500 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, just a few miles from D.C.'s National Zoo.
Some animals must have registered for the three-day event, as a white panda (maybe a polar bear?) could be seen roaming the convention floors holding a sign reading, "No More Bailouts."
A grey bulldog walking on two legs, dubbed the "taxpayer watchdog," also attended. Thankfully no fights broke out between the panda, the watchdog, or the "Benjamin Franklin" seen strolling around with the help of a cane.
A "Pork-mobile" parked outside had a backseat crammed with jumbo-sized pink pig balloons. Whenever the convertible took off, they fluttered behind an extra car length in the wind.
But the most popular creature at the convention's spiraling exhibit hall was Joe the Plumber. Joe is still enjoying his 15 minutes of political fame more than three months after the election. About 20 fans lined up for a chance to chat with him and get his Joe Hancock on his new book Fighting for the American Dream. Joe, in case you forgot, skyrocketed into the national consciousness after questioning then candidate Barack Obama about small-business tax policy.
"It's about the people," Joe tells one fan.
Joe (aka Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher) is now a former plumber and I guess should now be referred to as Joe the Author.
A striking element of this years' CPAC was the amount of youth present. College administrators across America must have Amber Alerts out this weekend for the conservative elements from their campus.
"I can't believe how many young people are here," exclaimed TV personality Joe Scarborough, who used the throng of 20-somethings in his midst to proclaim that the future belongs to the conservatives.
Back at the exhibit hall, a few booths down from the Muslim's for America booth, CPAC attendees could learn how to "travel with leaders of the conservative movement" through Conservative Cruises. Or learn about the Poker Player Alliance. Or even take target practice with a red plastic rifle at the NRA booth. Dick Cheney was nowhere to be seen around this booth.
Still, this was a place for the serious minded. At how many other conventions can you hear the words "Federalist Paper Number 21" shouted during a two-person heated argument about tax policy?
There also was a booth where you could learn about plans to help rebuild the party for the future. But it was empty when I passed. Too many people still in line for Joe the Plumber/Author.
But you might have already read about all of this on other blogs. "Blogger Row" at CPAC had more than two dozen bloggers huddled around a long table typing all at once like a laptop orchestra tuning up for a concert. Hopefully they left their computers long enough to walk around the sprawling convention to see all the pandas, watchdogs, Joes, and Bens.