'New Guard' Conservatives Pack CPAC Event

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The Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., has a new feel this year, primarily because of the Tea Party movement spreading across the U.S.

The annual event, which kicked off Feb. 18, gives conservatives a chance to come together and discuss ideas on how to win future elections.

It didn't take long for this year's CPAC to get humming. Marco Rubio, an up-and-coming conservative prominent in the Tea Party movement, was the event's first speaker.

Rubio is running for the Florida Senate, taking on the more moderate and popular Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

Rubio was 30 points down in the polls, but has now pulled ahead. And despite Crist's attempt to question Rubio's conservative credentials, Tea Partiers see him as the genuine conservative real deal.

Rubio is part of the "new guard" at CPAC -- younger, grassroots-type conservatives trying to make their mark on the Republican party. The "old guard" is still around, but the players are changing.

"Rock stars" at the conservative concert are people like South Carolina Sen. Jim Demint, who's been extremely influential. His Senate Conservatives Fund is contributing money to conservative Republican candidates across the country who are taking on moderate Republican challengers.

A key topic at CPAC is making sure the party gets back to acting as a conservative party. That has led to a healthy, yet messy debate on whether key swing moderates and independents will buy into a party that may seem too rigid in their philosophy.

The Tea Party movement is extremely visible at this year's CPAC. The group Freedom Works held a press conference unveiling their "Contract from America" where citizens can tell politicians what they want done rather than the other way around.

There are also Tea Party seminars being held, including one called "Is it time for a Catholic Tea Party?"

The big CPAC event, however, is Saturday's keynote primetime speaker -- Fox News Tea Party hero Glenn Beck. Mitt Romney -- one of the likely 2012 presidential candidates -- also spoke Thursday. Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty will speak Friday.

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