Cheney, Heston Headline CPAC Meeting

By Scott Hogenson | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - Buoyed by a line-up of high-profile speakers and not having to compete with political events elsewhere, organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference said they're expecting a record number of participants at this year's annual event, which opens Thursday.

More than 3,000 people are anticipated for the three-day conference of conservative political professionals and activists, according to Patricia F. Meagher, legislative director for the American Conservative Union, which sponsors the event.

"Registrations are running around 3,000 and we expect that to grow significantly because we usually have another 300 to 500 people register at the door," said Meagher.

Meagher said attendance for this year's 28th annual event is running ahead of the record turnout in 2000, which was held in the early weeks of the presidential primary campaign. "It's a little better than last year, which was the most well attended CPAC and was running up against the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries," she said.

Vice President Dick Cheney, National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston, and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are among the more notable speakers scheduled to make presentations, with a bevy of governors, senators, representatives and other conservative luminaries on the agenda for the conference.

"We're really running at record advance registration," said Meagher.

While interest in the 2000 CPAC ran high because of the presidential election last year, Meagher said George W. Bush's presidential victory has increased interest in the conference this year, which features a number of discussions and seminars designed to help conservatives and Republicans hold on to the political power they've won since the GOP congressional landslide of 1994.

Among the topics for various panel discussions during the conference is an analysis of the 2000 election results, a seminar on whether and how Republicans can maintain control of Congress, and a discussion on how Bush can "fight the PR assault from the Left."

The CPAC meeting will also be tackling a number of high profile legislative matters expected to come before Congress over the next two years, including the Bush tax relief plan, education and campaign finance reform, and ways of shoring up the Social Security and Medicare systems.

Many Republican politicos have also taken advantage of CPAC to make their case to activists over the years, and perhaps the highest profile candidate scheduled to attend this year's conference is Jersey City, New Jersey Mayor Brent Schundler.

Schundler is launching what many consider a long-shot bid to win the Republican nomination for governor in the New Jersey gubernatorial race this year. A staunch conservative and considered by some in GOP circles to be a visionary in urban Republican politics, Schundler is facing incumbent acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco for the nomination.

DiFrancesco ascended to the governor's office when former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman was tapped by the Bush Administration to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Most of New Jersey's GOP establishment is squarely behind DiFrancesco and his bid for the Republican nomination, but Schundler is hoping to capitalize on his successful brand of urban politics to wrestle the nomination away from DiFrancesco.

Schundler has won re-election as mayor of Jersey City, which is about 88% registered Democrat, since the mid-1990s.