Conservative activists, presidential hopefuls and Republican officials descend on New Orleans Thursday for the 3-day Southern Republican Leadership Conference -- the first big test of 2012 mettle since President Obama scored his health care victory. It's also the first major GOP event in a city devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which contributed to the end of Republican rule in Washington.
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From Sarah Palin to Mike Pence the Republicans who may challenge Obama two years from now will attempt to win over conservatives at one of the premiere events for the GOP. Just about everyone considering a bid will appear, except former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is finishing out his book tour. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will address the conference via video. Pawlenty is opting to attend a welcome-home ceremony for soldiers returning from Iraq instead.
Timing is everything in politics, and this event could set the tone for how the GOP will challenge Obama in the next year. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Republicans dedicated hours of the event to promising to "kill" the health care bill. Now that it's passed and Democrats are enjoying an uptick in popularity, it's going to be time to refocus on a new line of attack. It's also possible there will be either a refinement of the "repeal" message, or that that conference will showcase Republican divisions on the topic.