- Would-be lawmakers looking to boost their own political fortunes were all over CPAC.
- Some were angling for Trump’s endorsement.
- Winning the former president’s attention could translate into big attention they wouldn’t otherwise get.
ORLANDO, Florida — Deborah Adeimy crouched to her knees in a maroon Dolce and Gabbana dress and glittery American flag heels for an impromptu show-and-tell session with a reporter typing away on her laptop.
Adeimy said she was running for Congress to represent former President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, congressional district. She whipped out her iPhone and pulled up a photo that showed her smiling next to Trump.
“After we talked he said, ‘I’ll be watching you!'” Adeimy said of her meeting with Trump three days earlier at a “Take Back Congress” summit and fundraiser that the former president hosted at his private Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach.
“And he did this,” she added, impersonating the former president and pointing her index finger to the reporter.
While big-name speakers dominated the just-concluded Conservative Political Action Conference at the Rosen Shingle Creek hotel, Adeimy is part of a passionate subculture that aspires to elected office and for days will roam the event space’s halls and exhibit fair hoping to meet — and maybe snag a photo and a few seconds of conversation with — a Trumpworld A lister. Even Trump himself.
“It’s great meeting like-minded people who have the same goals as I — running for Congress and winning — so we can share best practices and just be mentors to each other or guidance counselors to each other,” said Ingrid Centurion, who is running for Congress in South Carolina, to, as she said, “replace RINO Nancy Mace.”
‘We test people here’
Centurion and Adeimy, like many budding politicians who came to CPAC, were using the conference as an opportunity to boost their political prospects.
Conference attendees wore Trump-bedazzled hats, shoes, dresses, and T-shirts. One attendee walking next to Julie Hall, who is running for Congress in Massachusetts, showed a reporter a gingerbread cookie she made in Trump’s likeness.
—Kimberly Leonard (@leonardkl) February 26, 2022
Were this a Star Trek convention, they’d probably be the fans dressed in pointy Vulcan ears or Klingon battle gear, pursuing William Shatner or Patrick Stewart for a few words of wisdom. But whether in movies or politics, today’s fan can become tomorrow’s star.
“I have had more congressional candidates introduce themselves to me than I ever have before,” said Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union that organizes CPAC.
“Pretty much everywhere we walk we are approached by people running,” said Rep. Greg Steube, a Republican of Florida.
Members of Congress and would-be lawmakers know that winning over hard-core conservatives is crucial, particularly for a primary. The event can help people connect with the right consultants, communications professionals, or social media strategists.
GOP Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee told Insider that successfully navigating CPAC is no small feat, for first-timers or established politicians.
“We test people here,” the two-term lawmaker said. “When you’re on that stage, it’s your opportunity to win the hearts of people who are in the conservative movement.”
Earlier on Saturday, Fox Nation held a live event where CPAC headliners stopped in to be interviewed, including JD Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” who is running for Senate in Ohio.
“A lot of these folks can be helpful and hopefully I can be helpful to them,” Vance told Insider. “But more than anything it’s inspiring to be around a bunch of conservatives who are actually forward-thinking about the future of the country.”
Candidates seek Trump’s support
Adeimy hasn’t yet secured a Trump endorsement, but the multi-generational Palm Beach native and longtime businesswoman said she was hopeful.
She faces a crowded Republican primary field for Florida’s 21st District (currently occupied by Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel).
GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California said making a splash at CPAC can be a chicken-and-egg type conundrum for those entering political life from out of the blue.
“First time candidates’ problem is they have to be seen as a candidate. They also have to be seen as somebody who has paid their dues,” the 10-term lawmaker told Insider between posing for selfies with CPAC attendees.
Schlapp said he thought Republicans felt an eagerness to run ahead of 2022 like never before because “Democrats are so radicalized.”
“People are saying, ‘I’m going to run. I’m worried about where my country is,'” he said.
Hall, the candidate running for Congress in deep-blue Massachusetts, said CPAC helped a conservative like herself feel less alone. She said she was inspired by the speakers.
“Any of us can do this if we work hard,” she said. “I think that’s the message you get here.”
Terry Namkung, a first-time candidate hoping to unseat 15-term Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, said he’d come to CPAC to learn the ropes.
“I wanted to network and see the different kinds of conservatives here,” the Air Force veteran told Insider.
And while well aware that fellow attendees were sizing him up, Namkung said he, too, was evaluating the entire process. The goal, Namkung said, should be “putting folks into Congress that are qualified. Not just those that, you know, are trying to become celebrities.”
The political process was like a “budding flower” and CPAC networking was one piece, said John Gibbs, who is running in a Republican primary against Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan.
“This conference is a beautiful example of Democracy at work because regular people come from all over the country to network and learn how to be part of saving the future,” said Gibbs, who’d already scored a coveted Trump endorsement.
Gibbs attended CPAC while on a comeback trail of sorts.
He worked in the Trump administration under Secretary Ben Carson at Department of Housing and Urban Development, and in 2020, Trump nominated him to lead the Office of Personnel Management. But the appointment stalled in the US Senate amid an uproar over tweets Gibbs posted floating a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman John Podesta taking part in a Satanic ritual.
Other candidates at CPAC were angling for Trump’s endorsement, including Calvin Wimbish, who is running for Congress in Florida, and Ron Eller, a physician assistant and businessman who is running for Congress in Mississippi.
“I just need 30 seconds,” Eller told Insider. He most urgently wanted to tell Trump about how he was running for the seat currently occupied by Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat chairing the January 6 Select Committee — one that holds Trump responsible for the mob attack on the US Capitol.
Eller said he also hoped to score endorsements from other CPAC attendees such Carson and as Mehmet Oz, the TV doctor who is running for Senate in Pennsylvania. Insider was not able to immediately reach Eller following CPAC to determine whether he had any immediate luck.
“It would be a game changer,” Eller said of the possibility of getting Trump’s endorsement.