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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proved to be the main attraction on the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, D.C. Potential GOP presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson all took the stage on Thursday, but the most interest was on the Badger State governor who has shot to the top of the polls.
Here's a roundup of highlights from the annual conservative gathering:
6:10pm ET: Sarah Palin said government bureaucracy “is killing our vets” and blamed the president’s foreign policy for the rise of Islamic militants.
“It is our duty to elect an honorable commander in chief who is willing to make the same sacrifices that others are willing to make,” Palin said.
Her speech included a number of policy suggestions to help veterans receive better medical treatment, such as giving out vouchers that would allow them to see doctors outside the VA system.
The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee also said the Obama administration has not been aggressively going after terrorist threats.
"Our lead-from-behind president thinks that we can co-exist with these genocidal thugs," Palin said of ISIS.
5:35pm ET: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered a blistering critique of Republicans in Congress, saying GOP leaders need to “grow a spine” and fight the president’s immigration actions.
He said Republicans are about to "wave the white flag of surrender" on the battle over Homeland Security funding.
5:16pm ET: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he won in a blue state by sticking to his conservatives principles in a fiery speech that that brought CPAC attendees to their feet.
“We won in Wisconsin, a state that hasn't gone Republican for president since 1984,” Walker said. “We did it without compromises.”
Walker has won three state-wide elections in four years. He touted his success in taking on public sector unions on Thursday, saying voters re-elected him for standing up and fighting for what he promised.
His speech was a checklist of conservative achievements from his time in office. He talked about defunding Planned Parenthood, advocating for gun rights and lowering taxes.
Walker’s popularity has shot up in the polls, and he has quickly become a favorite of Republican voters in the early primary and caucus states.
He also took on the president's foreign policy, saying Obama has failed to stand up to radical terrorism. He suggested his battle with protesters in his home state has prepared him for taking on terrorists abroad.
"If I could take on 100,000 protesters, I could do the same across the world," he said.
2:15pm ET: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said Hillary Clinton “embodies the corruption of Washington” and encouraged voters to make potential 2016 presidential candidates prove their conservative credentials during his speech Thursday afternoon.
“There are lots of terrific candidates, 2016 looks like it’s going to be a crowded race,” Cruz said.
“I would encourage all the men and women gathered here today, demand action, not talk,” he added.
The tea party senator also blasted Republican leadership in the Senate for negotiating a Homeland Security funding deal that does not defund the president’s immigration actions.
Fox News host Sean Hannity asked Cruz for a quick word association towards the end of their session. “Washington” was the word he associated with Hillary Clinton, and “youth outreach” was what he paired with Bill Clinton.
1:45pm ET: Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard considering a presidential run, focused her speech primarily on three points that are considered weaknesses among the potential field: women, foreign policy and Hillary Clinton. Those are also themes that are tightly intertwined.
"Mrs. Clinton, please name an accomplishment," Fiorina demanded before the conservative crowd, referring to Clinton's role as Secretary of State during the attacks on a U.S. compound in Benghazi and the role of her husband's Clinton Foundation in accepting donations from foreign entities and countries.
Fiorina began her speech introducing herself as a hard worker her worked her way up to the top. "This is the only country that a woman can go from secretary to CEO," she said to enthusiastic applause. When asked in a subsequent question and answer session if a woman needs to be in the race to the presidency, Fiorina said the Republican Party "needs to be as diverse as the nation we hope to represent."
"If Hillary Clinton had to face me on the debate stage, at the very least she would have a hitch in her swing," Fiorina said.
1:30pm ET: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie confidently dismissed sagging poll numbers and the increasingly bleak outlook for a presidential bid, telling conservatives Thursday that public opinion at this point would not impact whether or not he’ll run in 2016.
“Is the election next week?” Christie said during a question and answer session at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “If I decide to run for president, I’m not worried about what polls say 21 months before we elect the president of the United States.”
Read the full story here.
12:00pm ET: Iowa Republican Joni Ernst, whose support will be greatly coveted by Republican presidential candidates campaigning in the first caucus state, said President Obama must develop a comprehensive strategy to confront ISIS and al Qaeda. “Congress must hold President Obama accountable to ensure that he and his administration finally develop a cohesive and strong strategy to confront these and the many other threats we face,” she said.
Ernst, a veteran who remains a member of the Iowa National Guard, is a rising star in the party and last month delivered the GOP response to the president’s State of the Union address.
9:35pm ET: Utah Republican Mike Lee isn't running for president, but he does have advice for attendees at CPAC, where a parade of presidential hopefuls will try to win their support. "Imagine for a moment the impression this audience could leave a candidate if each of you refused to give a standing ovation to every trite one liner, every empty platitude or hollow political slogan that you hear over the next day and a half," he told the audience. "Yeah, you will hear some of those."
He added that Republicans should demand that their candidates be "extraordinary."
9:15am ET: Today's First Read outlines six stories to watch at the annual GOP confab. Click here to read the whole post, but here's the basics:
1. Does Scott Walker continue to stand out?
2. How does Jeb Bush fare?
3. Does a second-tier candidate emerge?
4. How do the speakers react to the looming DHS shutdown?
5. What's the bigger applause line -- immigration or Common Core?
6. How big of a focus is foreign policy?
9:03am ET: Dr. Ben Carson kicked off the day's events, accusing Democrats of "making people dependent" with too many government programs and of using divisive language to divide the country.
Carson, a former pediatric neurosurgeon, also urged Republicans to lay out alternatives to Obamacare. "I want Congress to listen very carefully to what I'm about to say, because they need to grasp a health care alternative before they try to remove Obamacare if they really want to get some traction."
8:35am ET: Here are the highlights of today's schedule:
8:40 am ET: Ben Carson
1:00 pm: Chris Christie
1:20 pm: Carly Fiorina
1:40 pm: Ted Cruz
5:00 pm: Scott Walker
5:20 pm: Bobby Jindal