The Early Read: No Clear Front-Runner At CPAC Conference

ABC News' Amy Walter reports:

An energized crowd of at conservative activists descended upon The Marriot Wardman Park Hotel in Northwest Washington, DC yesterday to listen to speeches by some of the most prominent names in Republican politics. But, while they are united in their goal – beat President Obama in 2012– there wasn’t much consensus on who they’d like to see as the Republican nominee.

Many are using this conference as an opportunity to vet some of the potential 2012 candidates. “Part of the reason I came here,” said Mary Ann Davies of Pennsylvania, “was to hear some of the people who are potentially throwing their hat in the ring.”

A handful of those candidates, including ex-Senator Rick Santorum R-PA, ex- House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and real estate mogul Donald Trump spoke on Thursday. Speaking today will be ex-MA Gov. Mitt Romney, ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty R-Minn., Gov. Mitch Daniels R-Indiana, Rep. Ron Paul R-TX, and businessman Herman Cain.

We asked some CPAC participants to weigh in on what they thought of the current field of potential 2012 candidates, and got a wide variety of answers.

Sudipta Bandyopadhyay, New Jersey

I think the 2010 election showed that we are looking for new faces, new conservative faces. I think some of the newly elected Governors like Chris Christie [NJ] or fresh faces like Mitch Daniels [IN] really get at that.

Edwin Taylor, South Carolina

We need a rock star to get the job done. We need another Ronald Reagan. The closest person I’m seeing right now is Rick Santorum. He’s young. We need a young guy in there. He’s conservative. I think he’d go after the national debt and try and solve that immediately.

When [Sarah Palin] joined John McCain I thought that was the answer. But after seeing her in action I realized she’s not Presidential material. She’s a great advocate. A great conservative but I don’t see her as being Presidential material.

Dave Draper and Karen Ginell, Virginia

Karen: [NJ Gov] Chris Christie. He’s my number one choice. He represents the type of candidate we are looking for- truth and honesty, doing what you say you will, being conservative and making the government smaller, decreasing cost.

Dave: Chris Christie yes. He’s great. If he can win in New Jersey he can win anywhere. He’s electable and he’d be great.

Karen: If he [Mitt Romney] would admit that health care in Massachusetts was a mistake, which he has not yet, I might gravitate toward him. I mean he’s engaging, he’s a good speaker, he’s good looking, you know all the things you want in a candidate but it’s really about actions and so far his actions have proven he can save the Olympics but he can’t save a state.

Mary Ann Davies: Pennsylvania

I want to hear boldness. I don’t want anybody who’s talking about baby steps. Our country is at a precipice financially, economically and with jobs. We can’t be talking about compromise and feel-good stuff. We need people who are going to be real leaders and take bold steps. It may hurt, it’s gonna be tough. But if we don’t do it now it’ll be really scary for my children and my children's future.

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