WASHINGTON-The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is a stage for rising conservative stars and those already in the firmament-and this year potential presidential candidates were around every corner, despite some controversy surrounding the event.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and even, to everyone's surprise, Donald Trump, descended on the massive conservative gathering in the nation's capital. Trump said he would decide whether he was running for president in June.
The conference sparked controversy this year because of the inclusion of GOProud, a gay conservative organization. The group supports gay rights but says it is fundamentally conservative, so it stands with social conservatives in opposing federal funding for abortion, for example. The organization participated in CPAC last year, too.
A number of social conservatives, like Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., boycotted the event as a result of GOProud's inclusion. Other heavyweight organizations pulled out too, like The Heritage Foundation, Concerned Women for America, and the Media Research Center. (The Family Research Council didn't participate, but it hasn't done so for three years.)
But some notable social conservatives like Santorum stayed, and spoke on social issues specifically.
"Those are the issues that matter, those are the issues that bind us together, and those are the issues we cannot retreat on," Santorum told the crowd. He talked about how his 2-year-old daughter Bella has "blessed" their family: She has trisomy 18 and her chances of survival to this point were miniscule.
After Santorum spoke, a panel on "traditional marriage and society" took the stage-GOProud wasn't included in the group. Traditional marriage supporters Bishop Harry Jackson, Focus on the Family's Tom Minnery, and the Rev. Michael Faulkner all underlined the importance of marriage between a man and a woman, and how that family structure prevents poverty and other problems.
Social issues aren't usually a central issue at the conference. As one indication of the libertarian crowd that attends, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, won the presidential straw poll last year. The conference, run by the American Conservative Union, will continue through Friday and Saturday, and a panel on the pro-life movement is scheduled.