She was not on the speaking program, but Hillary Rodham Clinton had presence at the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservative activists on Saturday, as high-profile Republicans launched a dual effort to attack the prospective Democratic presidential candidate and improve the GOP’s longstanding struggle with women voters.
It was the closing act of a Republican summit that highlighted acute challenges for a party that hasn’t won a presidential election in a decade.
The GOP’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, offered a message to all women, a group that has backed Democrats in every presidential election since 1988: “Women, don’t let them use you — unless you choose to be their political pawn, just their piece of accessory on their arm.”
The Republican firebrand was among just a handful of women featured on the main stage during the Conservative Political Action Conference, which offers an early audition for GOP officials weighing a 2016 presidential run and a platform for leading conservatives to put their stamp on the evolving Republican Party. Thousands of conservative activists, opinion leaders and Republican officials flocked to a hotel near Washington.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul won the conference’s presidential preference straw poll, a symbolic victory that reflects his popularity among conservatives who typically hold outsized influence in the GOP’s presidential selection process.
Clinton has yet to announce her 2016 intentions, but she is considered the overwhelming favorite to win her party’s nomination should she run.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich charged that Clinton would be “a prison guard for the past” should she become president. Gingrich, a 2012 presidential hopeful, said that Republicans would recapture the White House if the next election is framed as a fight between the past and the future.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) declared that the former secretary of state “has a lot to explain” should she run for president.