Election Goals Top Priority as CPAC Kicks Off

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WASHINGTON -- The 2012 race for president is intensifying this year's Conservative Political Action Conference.

Conservatives from across the country are in Washington to talk about ideas and strategy and to hear from the four candidates still in the running to become the Republican presidential nominee.

From video target practice, courtesy of the National Rifle Association, to chocolatey snacks mocking government bureaucracy - activists, students, and superstars attending this year's CPAC have one thing in common.

"We value conservative principles because we believe it's the truth and truth doesn't change," CPAC attendee Morgan Sweeney said.

This year there's a chance for a conservative to win the White House. And while conservatism is important for many voters, electability tops their list.

"I think we need to find whoever will best beat Obama," Tyler O'Neil, another CPAC attendee, said.

Former GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry told the crowd his campaign may have run out of time, but he hasn't run out on his ideas.

"Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that health care should be run by the federal government," the Texas governor said.

That's also the opinion of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, whose legal fight against the president's health care law won him CPAC's "Defender of the Constitution" Award."

"That legislation represents one of the greatest invasions of liberty in the lifetime of anyone in this room, and that suit that we filed is not about health care, it is about liberty," Cuccinelli said.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is the only former GOP presidential candidate who's not made an endorsement. But she told CBN News she'll travel the country to help the nominee.

"What I want to do is bring together Tea Partiers, evangelicals, the mainstream of the Republican Party, as well as independents and disaffected Democrats," she said. "I know we can win this fall in the presidential race, but we have to be united."

Even in an election year, conservatives are talking about reining in spending on entitlement programs.

"Boldness and clarity offer the greatest opportunity to create a winning coalition," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said.

"We will not only win the next election, we have a unique opportunity to sweep and remake the political landscape," he said.

CPAC will announce the winner of its annual straw poll Saturday. It's a contest all four of the candidates would love to win for a mid-primary conservative boost.

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Jennifer Wishon

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Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.