April 8, 2010
Posted: 09:00 PM ET
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Like it or not, the 2012 presidential race is already underway.
Beginning Thursday, thousands of Republicans will gather in New Orleans for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, a three-day event that's the GOP presidential nomination's equivalent of the annual NFL Scouting Combine for aspiring draft picks.
The lineup includes prominent Republican VIPs who might run for president, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. And political observers will be looking for clues about the nascent battle for the Republican presidential nomination.
Four years ago in Memphis, Tenn., Mitt Romney made a splash at the event, coming out of nowhere to finish a surprising second at the conference’s straw poll. The strong showing was an early indication that the Massachusetts governor would be a player in the 2008 presidential contest.
(The conference, however, isn't always a reliable predictor of the eventual GOP presidential nominee. The winner of the 2006 straw poll was former Republican Senate leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who never ran for president. Another closely watched Republican who spoke at the event — former Virginia Sen. George Allen — ended up losing his seat later that year.)
But even if its top performers don't always go on to the GOP nomination, the SRLC serves as the first real opportunity for party leaders, prominent donors and the political press corps to size up the early field.
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