Lisa De Pasquale was preparing Tuesday morning to depart her office in Northern Virginia to set up operations at Washington's Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, and she wasn't the only one planning such a trip. Across the country, thousands of conservative activists are making their way to the hotel in northwest D.C. that is the site of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference beginning Thursday.
As CPAC director, De Pasquale spends all year planning and organizing the annual three-day conference that is the largest gathering of its kind in the country. The event has become so huge that it was moved this year from its longtime home at the Omni Shoreham Hotel to the larger Marriott Wardman Park, just off Connecticut Avenue near the Woodley Park Metro station.
"We're at a larger facility this year, but it looks like we're already going to be bursting at the seams," said De Pasquale. "Right now, we're about 20 percent above pre-registration for last year. So we're expecting between 9,000 and 10,000, if on-site registration is on pace with last year."
Not only will this be the biggest CPAC ever, but it is likely to be the most energized conference in several years. This year's conference will bring the added enthusiasm of hundreds of new attendees who have been active in the Tea Party movement. In fact, one of the movement's first events took place during last year's conference, when about 200 CPAC attendees gathered for a rally in front of the White House that featured Michelle Malkin.
That February 2009 LaFayette Park rally was mocked by liberal bloggers -- "puny," sniffed the Village Voice -- but the grassroots movement swelled into a force that made a real political impact. Tea Party activism helped conservatives score big wins in last fall's Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections, as well as Republican Scott Brown's stunning victory in Massachusetts, capturing the Senate seat held for nearly four decades by Ted Kennedy.
The Tea Party movement will be represented by speakers and panelists on this year's CPAC agenda, including Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots and Dana Loesch of the St. Louis Tea Party. And the final keynote speech on Saturday will be given by Glenn Beck, who helped spur on the movement with his 9-12 Project.
"I think he's someone who's going to energize the conference," De Pasquale said of Beck. "I expect him to give a call to action that will help our attendees take the energy from CPAC into the 2010 mid-term election."
This will be the first-ever CPAC appearance for Beck. Also making their CPAC speaking debuts at this year's event will be Allen West, an Iraq war hero and congressional candidate, and Marco Rubio, whose Florida Senate campaign has ignited a grassroots uprising against the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which backed Gov. Charlie Crist in the GOP primary.
Liz Cheney and Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter will make their first CPAC speaking appearances this year, said De Pasquale, while Internet news entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart (who has previously participated in panel discusses at the conference) will give a main-stage speech Saturday. Breitbart will be introduced by Hannah Giles, who became famous in a series of videos exposing the community organizing group ACORN. Giles will also be a participant in XPAC, a series of events for younger conference attendees -- and there will be lots of them.
"As in years past, we're expecting that more than 50 percent of our attendance will be college students," De Pasquale said. "It bodes well for the movement that there are so many young people who are energized about attending CPAC."
Attendees young and old will hear from a stellar list of conservative speakers, including South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, House members Steve King, Mike Pence, Jason Chaffetz, Darrell Issa, Scott Garrett, Eric Cantor, Dan Lungren and Ron Paul, and numerous commentators including Andrew Napolitano, John Fund, George F. Will and Ann Coulter.
Beyond the speeches and panel discussions, the conference features numerous book signings, receptions and an enormous exhibition hall.
"The official schedule is just one part of the CPAC experience," De Pasquale said, adding that the chance to meet with fellow conservatives is a major attraction of the annual conference.
CPAC is a "collaborative effort" with more than 100 co-sponsors, De Pasquale said, and requires extensive planning by herself and her assistant, Joe Logue.
"Three hundred sixty days a year, it's two people," she said. "Once we're on site, we have CPAC communications director Ian Walters and about 10 ACU staffers, as well as 50 or so volunteers from across the country. We work 24/7 as it gets closer."
Of course, it's not all work and no play. CPAC has been described as "Mardi Gras for the Right," and as "MTV's Spring Break, but with pearls and navy blue suits." On the eve of the big three-day party, De Pasquale was thinking about the event's new hosts at the Marriott Wardman Park.
"I wonder if they know what they're getting into," she said.