By STEVE PEOPLES, The Associated Press
OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton "has a lot to explain" should she run for president, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann told the nation's largest gathering of conservative activists on Saturday, the final day of its annual meeting.
The Republican firebrand, one of the few women featured at the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference, raised pointed questions about the former secretary of state's work in Russia and Libya. And she challenged the Republican Party's struggle with women voters, who have supported Democrats in every presidential election since 1988.
"Don't forget, we are the party, the only party, that had a woman on the presidential ticket this century," Bachmann, a 2012 presidential candidate herself, said of the GOP's 2008 ticket and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich headline the final day of the gathering, which has brought thousands of conservative activists, opinion leaders and Republican officials to suburban Washington. Other participants Saturday include Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and a host of up-and-coming conservatives from across the country.
Saturday also features the results of the conference's annual symbolic presidential preference straw poll. The gathering is an early audition of sorts for most of the GOP's prospective 2016 presidential field.
Some of the GOP's most prominent conservatives insisted Friday that Republicans should emphasize hot-button social issues like abortion and gay marriage in this year's midterm elections, exposing an ideological divide within a party trying to capture the Senate this year and the White House two years from now.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist pastor, set the tone early Friday, the second day of the conference.
"If this nation forgets our God, then God will have every right to forget us," Huckabee said to cheers. "It's time for government to scale back, not for people of faith to scale back."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who, like Huckabee, have run presidential campaigns fueled in part by support from religious voters, also spoke Friday.
But Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one of the final speakers of the day, represents a new generation of libertarian-minded Republicans less likely to oppose gay marriage or embrace laws allowing the government to affect people's private lives.
"There's a great battle going on. It's for the heart and soul of America," Paul told a swelling crowd, focusing on civil liberties instead of social issues.
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