National Journal and Hotline were out in full force for the kickoff to this weekend's CPAC conference. Here are the key takeaways and nuggets from our reporters:
--The press loves nothing more than a new possible presidential candidate to fawn over, and they got one in Donald Trump. He wasn't in the mood to answer press questions while walking through the Marriott Wardman Park with his large entourage of handlers and bodyguards. And he was combative in his hastily-arranged speech, taking direct aim at Texas Rep. Ron Paul--the favorite of many of the libertarian-attendees and the odds-on favorite to win CPAC's presidential straw poll for the second year in a row. Paul "cannot get elected," Trump said to loud boos and some more muted cheers. "I like Ron Paul ... But he has zero chance of being elected."
--Former Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle was in the house for CPAC--and she could be added to the speaker's list over the coming days. But she shot down the presidential speculation that's buzzed around her, saying it was all just "press speculation.
--Is Dick Cheney really a surprise guest if he's the surprise guest every year? The former vice president, who also made an unannounced but rumored-about visit to CPAC last year, introduced former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who has been promoting his memoirs. The two were booed, largely by anti-war supporters of Paul, and some in the crowd were shouting "war criminal" and "draft dodger" at the duo.
--Birther alert? Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) was among the House freshmen featured this morning. In telling the crowd about being born in Puerto Rico, Labrador said ""I'm proud to be an American citizen by birth - and I do have my birth certificate to prove it." The remark was met with loud applause.
--Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reacted to today's retirement of his No.2 in the Senate, Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). Calling Kyl his "right hand man," McConnell said it "is a big loss for the country but the good news is he'll be here for two more years helping us fight for the right things. We're going to miss Jon Kyl.''
--There's a surprise candidate trying to work his way onto the CPAC presidential straw poll ballot--Dale Peterson. Fresh from fighting "thugs and criminals," the one-time candidate for Alabama agriculture whose campaign ad went viral last year, had a booth at the conference urging people to write in his name. Those who pledged to do so would get a Peterson-approved cowboy hat. He still does "give a rip."
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