Posted: 02/ 9/2011 , 7:57 AM ET
By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake
The first major cattle call of the 2012 presidential race begins tomorrow in Washington at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual rite-of-passage for Republicans hoping to make it on the national stage.
Eight Republicans who are actively considering the 2012 contest will be addressing the group over the three-day gathering, hoping to road-test their message for the assembled crowd (and media).
Our take on the stakes for each of the eight candidates with their 30-minute speech — organized by the day they are slated to address CPAC — is after the jump.
And, make sure to check out our one-stop shop for all the CPAC information you could ever want. We’ll be live-blogging from the gathering once the festivities get started on Thursday.
* Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann: Bachmann, a tea party favorite, has perhaps the easiest task of any of the eight would-be candidates. The CPAC audience loves red meat conservative rhetoric, and that’s what Bachmann specializes in. Look for her to give them what they want — and for the crowd to respond in kind. One thing working against Bachmann is her speaking time; she takes the stage at 9:15 a.m. when the CPAC crowd may still be a bit sleepy and/or finding their way around the building.
* Former House speaker Newt Gingrich: Gingrich (Ga.) is all but in the presidential contest, so his address will be regarded by most attendees as an early glimpse at his stump speech. Gingrich is a gifted speaker but can occasionally go on one too many historical tangents for the CPAC crowd — or anyone else. Watch to see if Gingrich can stay disciplined and leave anyone who listens to the speech with a single takeaway message.
* Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: With brighter-light social conservatives like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee taking a pass on CPAC, Santorum has a real chance to make his case directly to social conservatives both in the room and watching across the country.
* Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: Romney has some history with CPAC — he formally dropped out of the last presidential race at the group’s 2008 gathering. Expect Romney to take few risks in his speech and focus heavily on how the Obama Administration has taken the country on the wrong financial course.
* South Dakota Sen. John Thune: If Thune is as undecided about the race as his advisers seem to suggest, then how he is received at CPAC could well sway him one way or the other. The biggest question surrounding Thune’s speech is how he handles his 2008 vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout, which is seen as a scarlet letter by many in the CPAC set. Does Thune take it head on? Ignore it? Somewhere in between?
* Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: In his 2010 speech at CPAC, Pawlenty was only so-so in what many billed as his coming out on the national stage. Pawlenty has had a very solid last year and those close to him insist his stump speech has gotten significantly better. This is his chance to prove it. (A private Fix plea: No more corny jokes!)
* Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels: There is already considerable buzz surrounding Daniels’ speech with rumors flying fast and furious that he might use the platform to make his plans for 2012 public. (Those familiar with Daniels’ thinking insist he remains undecided.) Even if Daniels doesn’t make the “big” announcement, his speech will be among the most closely scrutinized of CPAC, as he has to deal with the negative reaction among conservatives for his past call for a “truce” on social issues.
* Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour: Barbour will be the only presidential candidate on the docket on Saturday — unless you include former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton — and that could work for or against Barbour. The crowd will be worn down after listening to two straight days of speeches, which could dampen the energy in the room for Barbour. But, the Mississippi governor will also get the final chance to leave a lasting impression with attendees.
Eric Lesser moves on: Eric Lesser, the wunderkind who began as a baggage boy on President Obama’s 2008 campaign and rose rapidly through the ranks to serve as David Axelrod’s special assistant in the White House, has landed a new gig as director of strategic planning at the Council of Economic Advisers.
In his new post, Lesser is aiding CEA head Austan Goolsbee with press outreach and broader communications strategy.
Lesser’s new job comes in the wake of Axelrod’s departure from the White House — one of a series of moves aimed at beginning the planning for Obama’s 2012 re-election effort.
Scott Brown aims to raise $25 million: Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) intends to raise $25 million for his reelection bid, according to National Journal.
The amount would put Brown on-par with the leader of the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who himself aimed to raise $25 million for his 2010 reelection bid.
Brown has a good start. He already has $7.2 million on hand — much of it leftover from his successful special election campaign, when the money came in so fast that he couldn’t spend it all.
Nebraska may go winner-take-all: Obama won an electoral vote in Omaha in 2008, but he may not get the chance in 2012.
Republicans in Nebraska are looking to change the state’s process for awarding electoral votes. Currently, the winner of each congressional district gets one electoral vote; the GOP wants to employ the winner-take-all system used by every other state except Maine.
With Obama unlikely to win the entire state, though, switching to a winner-take-all system could mean Nebraska gets ignored in 2012, and Democrats aren’t happy about that.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says he’s a tea partier.
Less than half of Americans think President Obama will win reelection, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research poll.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will be neutral in the GOP presidential contest.
Basketball legend Magic Johnson will reportedly be endorsing Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D) in the special election to replace outgoing Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.).
Former Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R) has established her own political action committee — ChristinePAC.