WASHINGTON-The 2010 version of the annual pep rally for the conservative movement began here Thursday with attendees still in a partying mood after recent Republican election victories.
"Wow, what a difference a year makes," said Colin Hanna, president of the nonprofit public policy group Let Freedom Ring. Last year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) had a more somber, soul-searching mood coming just weeks after President Barack Obama's inauguration had cemented the Democrat's takeover of Washington.
"They said this CPAC convention would be our wake," Hanna continued. "It's not. It's our rebirth."
And the thousands of mostly college-aged conservatives who came to Washington's Marriot Wardman Park hotel for the three-day event gave their loudest ovation Thursday to the surprise appearance of one lawmaker at the crest of this rebirth: Scott Brown.
"As you know, my name is Scott Brown, and I'm the newly elected Republican senator from Massachusetts," began the holder of the senate seat once held by Edward Kennedy after the roar died down. He put a smiling emphasis on the words "Republican" and "Massachusetts."
Indeed, few here in 2009 would have ever imagined that a senator from of all places Massachusetts would address the convention just one year later.
"Well, here I am," Brown played to the crowd, throwing in a few jokes about his truck, parked outside the hotel and made popular during his campaign as a token of his everyman bona fides.
Attendees here claimed that the conservative comeback began with elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Brown's Massachusetts. And the CPAC crowd's post-election revelry continued throughout the day. Target No. 1? President Obama.
Brown's fellow Massachusetts's politician, Mitt Romney, joked that the president was going downhill faster than Olympic gold medal skier Lindsey Vonn.
"President Obama fails to understand America. He calls his agenda ambitious. I call it reckless," Romney said in a speech that highlighted last year's congressional failures, which Romney said belonged to the Democratic majority. "When it comes to giving blame, pin the tail on the donkeys."
Speakers here mocked Obama's criticism of the Supreme Court at last month's State of the Union address, called his speech patterns condescending, and attacked his barring of C-SPAN cameras during the congressional healthcare debate.
Other CPAC speakers slated to appear through Saturday include Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and media personality Glenn Beck.
While the epicenter of CPAC could be found at the hotel's 2,300-seat main ballroom, where A-list speakers held court, conservative movers and shakers conducted policy business in the hotel's side rooms.
A gathering of eight conservative leaders warned that harm would come to the military if lawmakers repealed the "don't ask, don't tell" policy preventing open homosexuals from serving in uniform.
"There is no good time to use our military for social engineering," said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness.
She argued that a military facing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan couldn't risk devoting the resources and manpower needed to comply with any new provision permitting open homosexuals from serving. "If the proposed change does not improve our military, it should not be done," Donnelly said.
In advance of the convention more than 80 leaders of conservative groups signed a statement of small government, individual liberty, and free enterprise called the Mount Vernon Statement. Named after George Washington's estate, the statement, designed to resemble the parchment paper used in the nation's founding documents, had nearly 20,000 online signatures within its first 24 hours.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, introduced as the future speaker of the House, said the Republican Party would listen to the Mount Vernon Statement and the Tea Party movement-something that didn't even exist at CPAC's last gathering.
"We will be open. We will be transparent. And we will listen," Boehner promised, currying votes for this year's crucial mid-term elections. But he did not have to worry about this crowd-he was speaking to the conservative home team.