Central Florida will be crawling with presidential candidates this week as the state Republican Party on Thursday kicks off its three-day Presidency 5 conference at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Here's your guide to P5:
What's the big deal? Why should I pay attention?
Well, Florida, Florida, Florida for one thing. Republicans can't win the White House without Florida's 29 electoral votes, and by many estimates Florida's not-yet-scheduled presidential primary will decide the 2012 Republican race early next year.
At P5, the candidates will be courting nearly 5,000 of Florida's most active and influential Republican activists and leaders, and the events will signal who's hot and who's not in this pivotal battleground state. It's Florida's biggest political event of the election cycle besides the presidential primary, 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, and the actual election.
What is it?
It's a three-day conference that kicks off Thursday with a Faith and Freedom Coalition rally and then a live Fox News presidential debate at 9 p.m. On Friday, the American Conservative Union, coordinating with the state party, holds its CPAC-FL conference featuring the presidential contenders, a myriad of prominent conservatives and a debate by the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate. On Saturday, most of the presidential candidates will address nearly 3,500 P5 delegates from across Florida who will hold a straw poll, or mock presidential primary election.
Can anyone attend these events?
The Presidency 5 events — Thursday's debate and Saturday's speeches and straw poll election — are open only to registered delegates and registered guests.
But on-site registration is available for people who want to attend Friday's CPAC-FL powwow, featuring all the presidential candidates and many prominent conservatives. The full schedule is at cpacfl.conservative.org. Registration is $45 for adults and $25 for students. It will be in the South Concourse of the Orange County Convention Center, 9899 International Drive.
Any way to watch the speeches from home?
FOX will broadcast Thursday's debate from 9 to 11 p.m. C-SPAN Networks expects to cover Friday's CPAC conference from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., when the presidential candidates are speaking, and video will be available at c-span.org. Saturday's P5 event and straw poll will be streamed live at presidency5.com.
Who else besides the presidential candidates will be at CPAC-FL?
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Rick Scott, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, members of the Florida Cabinet, leaders of the Florida Legislature, bestselling author Ann Coulter and conservative leaders like Bill Kristol, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed and former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent.
Who are the P5 delegates?
About 3,100 were chosen by their county Republican parties, after paying a $175 registration fee. Another 300 or so were selected by the state party chairman, and overall the delegation is supposed to represent the geographic makeup of the state.
P5? What about P 1, 2, 3 and 4?
Florida has a history of holding significant "Presidency" conferences with debates and a straw poll, and actually, every winner of a Presidency straw poll has gone on to win the GOP nomination. Ronald Reagan won Presidency I on Nov. 12, 1979. George H.W. Bush won Presidency II on Nov. 14, 1987. And Bob Dole won Presidency III on Nov. 18, 1995. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush and the GOP opted not to hold a Presidency event in 2005. And in 2007, the party's Presidency IV featured a debate and speeches by all the major Republican candidates, but at the urging of several campaigns, particularly John McCain's, the party did not hold a straw poll.
Are the candidates campaigning hard for the straw poll?
No. Unlike prior years when some candidates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars courting Florida delegates, there has been minimal campaigning. Trying to lower expectations, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney have declared they aren't competing for P5, and won't address the delegates before they vote Saturday.
Doesn't that make the straw poll meaningless?
Not at all. It won't tell us anything about the campaigns' organizational muscle, but it's an excellent gauge of how these candidates stand — at this point in time — with thousands of Florida's most active and influential Republicans. These delegates will have ample opportunity to size up the field: All the major candidates will be on the straw poll ballot, and the delegates will be sitting in the audience at Thursday's debate and many will watch them at the CPAC conference Friday as well.
Will the more obscure candidates like former Govs. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana and Gary Johnson of New Mexico be on hand?
They won't be at the debate, but the confirmed speakers at CPAC-FL are Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Johnson, Thaddeus McCotter, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Romney and Rick Santorum.
Will we even remember this a year from now?
Most people, probably not. But presidential campaigns are all about building momentum, and P5 offers a prime opportunity in a pivotal state.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com.