Pence, meanwhile, took time out from overseeing the administrations response to the coronavirus outbreak to address the conference Thursday afternoon.
It is no accident that CPAC has become a stomping ground for those with presidential ambitions: Many believe the confab helped to catapult Trump to the White House. The New York businessman first started attending the event in 2011, long before he was taken seriously as a presidential candidate. Trump became a regular, bringing a large entourage and a celebrity aura that over time helped turn him into a conservative favorite.
Trump was just the latest in a long line of Republican figures who made presidential forays at CPAC. Then-California Governor Ronald Reagan made his first appearance at the conference in 1974, and as president more than a decade later, he would remark that returning to the conference was an opportunity to dance with the one that brung ya.
Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist who worked on Trumps 2016 campaign, said the conference gives potential future candidates a rare opportunity to make a lasting impression on the GOP base.
Just ask President Donald Trump, Surabian added.
When Trump first started showing up at the conference, it seemed like a novelty act," said Seat, the former George W. Bush aide. But here we are. Hes not Mr. Trump. Hes President Donald J. Trump and it started here at CPAC.
The early 2024 activity hasnt been limited to CPAC. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton is set to headline a New Hampshire political dinner in May. Pence has made several trips to South Carolina over the past year, even though the state has scrapped its 2020 Republican presidential primary and wont have another one until 2024.
And before last months Iowa caucuses, Florida Sen. Rick Scott raised eyebrows when he ran an unusual face-to-camera TV ad in the state in which he savaged Joe Biden and defended Trump.
Matt Mowers, a Republican congressional candidate from New Hampshire making the rounds at CPAC, said hes been in touch with some potential 2024 contenders. He said he wouldnt be surprised if early-state activity ramps up soon after the 2020 election.
Mowers, a longtime operative in the state who for a time served in the Trump administration, said his advice to would-be candidates is to focus on the presidents reelection first.
But he added: Its never too early to make friends.
Former Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a conservative radio show host who waged a short-lived 2012 White House bid, offered a word of caution for those making the 2024 rounds. You dont want to look too eager while a sitting president is still running for reelection, he said.
The former congressman recalled some advice he once heard from a friend.
If youre gonna campaign, he said, dont look like youre campaigning.
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