Every year, the biggest names in the GOP are brought before the Conservative Political Action Conference -- the largest annual gathering of conservative politicians and activists -- to discuss the direction of the party and allow attendees to ponder who might best represent them during the next presidential election.
The planners of 2013 event, set to be held in the Washington D.C.-area this March, are off to a quick start rounding up the current popular choices for a potential 2016 presidential run. On Thursday, the coordinators at the American Conservative Union announced that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum had confirmed invitations to speak at the event, as reported by CNN.
Rubio and Santorum are set to join Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as well as Wisconsin congressman and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan -- who has been selected as the keynote speaker -- in addressing the conference. All four members of this group are floated as possible 2016 presidential candidates, and many observers see some of their recent maneuvers as signs they're positioning themselves for the main stage in a few years.
CPAC traditionally concludes with a GOP presidential nomination straw poll that provides as a preliminary indicator of support for the various candidates. It's a high-profile event that draws media attention and provides early legitimacy for a potential White House run. Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won four of the past six years, with former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul winning in 2010 and 2011.
With a strong base of speakers already on board, the ACU is still hoping to receive a host of additional confirmations. It has extended invites to a wide-ranging group of potential speakers, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other possible presidential hopefuls such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).