The Conservative Political Action Conference gets into full swing Thursday in Maryland, where former President Donald Trump will deliver the convention's final address on Saturday night. File Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo
March 2 (UPI) -- The Conservative Political Action Conference kicks off Thursday as several GOP candidates and hundreds of national Republicans gather in Maryland's National Harbor for one of the first major events of the 2024 campaign season.
The speakers at this year's conference represent a who's who among the party's most elite figures, many who have either announced an intention to run for president or might soon do so, including former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and most notably former President Donald Trump, who will deliver the convention's final address on Saturday night.
Perhaps more notable are the potential White House hopefuls who will not be there, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Others who were believed to be skipping the conference as a way to politically distance themselves from the former president are Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
The conference also comes as CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp faces a lawsuit alleging he sexually assaulted a staffer on Herschel Walker's Senate campaign in Georgia.
CPAC, which launched in 1974, bills itself as the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world.
For decades, the conference has served as a major jumping-off point for candidates who form the basis of their platforms by testing ideas across the broad spectrum of moderates and conservatives at the annual event.
This year's CPAC comes as Trump still holds strong influence over the party more than two years after he left office.
Some prominent Republicans opposed his candidacy when it was announced back in November, saying the party needed to move in a new direction following the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, for which Trump now faces four criminal charges.
Reps. Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert -- all Trump loyalists who maintain a strong voice in Congress -- will also be in attendance at the conference, as well as Kari Lake, who lost in her Republican bid for the Arizona governor's office last November.
Some of the major speakers Thursday include Pompeo, Florida Sen. Rick Scott, Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt, conservative commentator Candace Owens, and Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, who is likely to address the government's response to last month's chemical train derailment in East Palestine.
Friday's speaker lineup includes Haley, Donald Trump Jr., conservative activist Steve Bannon, former White House advisor Kimberly Guilfoyle, conservative commentator Sebastian Gorka, and Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association.
On Saturday, speeches will be given by former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and Chair of the House Republican Conference Elise Stefanik.
Trump's speech will close the conference on Saturday evening.