New Orleans (CNN) - Nearly 4,000 GOP insiders are descending on New Orleans Thursday for the start of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, thought by many to be the unofficial kick-off to the 2012 presidential cycle.
Along with speeches from party leaders, the SRLC agenda includes strategy sessions, local food tastings and even a GOP-themed film festival - not to mention several days behind-the-scenes networking and a sampling of the city's abundant food and drink. The conference is taking place just steps from Bourbon Street.
The Republican National Committee and Republican Governors Association, eager to fill their coffers in a midterm election year, are also holding fundraisers to piggyback off the gathering, which takes places every four years.
But the main draw, especially for the 130 credentialed media organizations in attendance, will be the parade of potential presidential contenders.
Louisiana Republican Party chairman Roger Villere, one of the event's organizers, described the conference as "the jump start for the 2012 presidential cycle."
Among the possible White House candidates: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
That roster has two glaring omissions, however: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the two Republicans who done the most to signal their 2012 intentions, are skipping the conference.
Romney is busy with his book tour. Pawlenty was initially slated to speak, but changed his plans to attend a welcome home ceremony in Minnesota for troops returning from Iraq. He will instead address the conference with a recorded video message, an aide said.
Gingrich will open the event with a speech Thursday night, along with Liz Cheney and GOP strategist Mary Matalin.
Political observers will be keeping a close eye on the results of 2012 straw poll – to be released Saturday – which could be an indicator not just of a potential candidate's organizational strength, but also of his or her reputation among the party's professional class.
Unlike the Conservative Political Action Conference - an annual event geared in large part toward grassroots activists and college-aged volunteers - the SRLC is considered a more establishment event. The crowd will include a mix of elected officials, top party strategists, political consultants and state party officials from around the region.
As a result, Palin's showing in the Big Easy will be closely scrutinized. Though few doubt her strength and influence within the Tea Party movement and among conservative grassroots activists, many rank-and-file Republicans are not sold on the notion of Palin as a serious presidential contender.
According to a CBS News poll released Thursday, just 43 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of the former Alaska governor.
Though the GOP is outwardly confident about it's chances in this November's midterm elections, the conference also comes at a difficult time for the party, which has been mired in controversy for more than a week after it was revealed that the RNC paid for an outing at a sex-themed Hollywood nightclub.
That disclosure resulted in the resignations of several top advisers at the RNC and has chairman Michael Steele on the defensive over questions about his financial stewardship of the committee.
Steele is scheduled to address the conference on Saturday, and he is expected to meet privately with a number of party insiders in the coming days. Though Steele has been in contact with members of the committee since the scandal broke, he will see many of them face-to-face when he gets to New Orleans.
Villere said that Steele's rocky tenure will definitely be a matter of discussion for himself and the other committee members who made the trip to New Orleans.
"Everybody is concerned, concerned with the fundraising issues and the image of the RNC," Villere told CNN. "We want to support the chairman, everyone wants to support the chairman. We're hoping this event gives us a chance to talk about it. I would think there is going to be some serious discussion about the future."
How many family values oriented activities are there available on Bourbon Street?
I would say the Republicans have a fine group of people to run against nobama in 2012. Face it, the Republicans could probably run a ham sandwich in 2012 to beat nobama and win.
Well, good luck with this. The list of Republican "stars" is very unimpressive. It's with pleasure I note that the first name listed is Sarah Palin. I love this woman, she is always good for a laugh or two.
I hope all attending the conference will take a tour of New Orleans so they can see first hand what happens when you have cradle to grave entitlement programs.
Maybe they can tour the new housing projects that cost almost $300,000 per apartment. For people who won't work to live in for free.
Hopefully none of them will be killed, the New Orleans murder rate is incredible. I wonder if that has anything to do with the cradle to grave entitlements? When you don't have to work you have plenty of time to deal drugs and kill others.
Paul has the support but watch all the media and other candidates act like the poll is of no significance if he wins it like they did a couple months ago. Most in power fear this man since he tells us the truth. He already warned about this downturn before it happend. But go back and watch all the economists and media personalities that scoffed at him. Unreal.
It is time for the Republicans to offer the American people a candidate who is truly DIFFERENT from the Palins, Huckabees, and Romneys. They need to nominate someone who WON'T cowtow to the Cheneys, Limbaughs, Koulters, and Becks.
We need someone who will place Country before Party.
Give Ron Paul a chance in 2012.
WE NEED A THIRD PARTY !!!!!!!
All the candidates in the dem .and rep.
parties who are being talked about are
the same ole' same ole.
If you've heard of them they are already bought
and paid for.
There is one who isn't and all the leaders in
both parties fear her.
Sarah Palin is real and hated by the status quo.
Now make up your minds. Do you want the same ole'
crap...or do you really want an independent who
cleaned house before in Alaska?
Are they sure it's a good idea to go to NEW ORLEANS? The city that George Bush and the Republican party let down.
Always thinking about the next election: running on "repeal" – which did not work out well for Alf Landon.
Sarah Palin just asked "Do you have your gun and are you ready to use it?" That is hate talk which incites violence;
Santorum is a "Tort Reform fraud." He and his wife sued her doctor for a half million dollars for "non-medical" compensation. That's the pain and suffering lawsuit that Santorum wants to cap at $250,000. They were awarded $350,000 and bought a huge mansion in VA where they pretend to be from PA.
Pawlenty’s leadership has taken the state of Minnesota from having a financial surplus to having a $5 billion dollar deficit.
Seen anyone there that you'd vote for? Or would you vote for a bag of cement as long as it was labeled "republican?" Just curious.
GO RON PAUL!
My vote is for freedom, personal liberty, and constitutionally grounded policies!
The Republicans don't have the guts to nominate someone like Paul that thinks outside the box. Plus he is outspoken against the Fascist Military Industrial Complex that Eisenhower warned us about decades ago. Not really going to sit well with the big $ elitist party leadership.
Great. More looneys diluting themselves. My quesiton is, whats going with the democratic kickoff? Do they evn have one?
I want to hear who is going to REDUCE ENTITLEMENT SPENDING, REPEAL THE HEALTHCARE ENTITLEMENT and get 50% of this country that don't pay taxes to start pulling their weight!!!
We're $13 TRILLION in the hole and digging ourselves deeper and deeper with each passing second. STOP the FISCAL INSANITY!
This "Convention" of Circular Firing Squad Sharp Shooters should be held at Disneyland, as it is closer to the fantasies that they want to impose on the rest of us.
I can't believe New Orlean's would allow the GOP to set foot in their city after all the lack of response they got after Katrina. Are we that short on memory in this country?
New Orleans will be filled with hate starting on Thursday. All the lying, racist, ignorant, republicians will be there to spread their hate. If i lived there i would leave until these satan followers leave.
I like Gov. Halet Barbour........he's a southern gent........Yet he still wouldn't get the Presidency........everyone else list fugetaboutit!!!!!
OBAMA/BIDEN 2012!!!! :-)
Racists gather in the deep south.. how fitting
Riiiiiiiiight, the GOP cares about New Orleans so much, they hold a conference there. Truth is, this is just a way to enjoy Bourbon Street, the drinks, and all the free hookers, and std's they HOPE the media will never find out about.
Why didn't the GOP hold this in Mobile, Hattiesburg, Jackson or Biloxi. IBecause other than the booze or hookers, the GOP doesn't have to worry about 'those' people if they venture to far from the convention site.
Hawaii, New Orleans..........Rio is next.
4,000 insiders huh ? Sorry folks,but the water has gone down, and I'm sure the good residents of New Orleans are stronger and tougher without you--5 years late albeit.
"Among the possible White House candidates: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal."
Sounds like the dinosaurs gathering to discuss their concern over the recent cold snap.
They better hope for global warming. Not!
SIN CITY here we come.......very appropriate.....this way any expense reports will not need any scrutiny.......Marco Rubio loves that set up.....bunch of CONServative hypocrites
Any Dancers available for the Party????
As long as hes white, the repugs wont care !
'As a result, Palin's showing in the Big Easy will be closely scrutinized. Though few doubt her strength and influence within the Tea Party movement and among conservative grassroots activists, many rank-and-file Republicans are not sold on the notion of Palin as a serious presidential contender.'
Translation: There's still hope for the RNC!!!
The faces of the Grand Old Party surely don't represent all Americans and there's a lot wrong with that picture.