Christian and political leaders said no one particularly stood out as a strong contender among the pool of potential Republican presidential candidates at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
CPAC 2011 speaker and evangelical leader Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., commented that there were potential winners in the field of Republican presidential candidates at CPAC. But he also stressed that many of them have limitations that they would have to overcome.
The annual conservative political conference, which began Friday and ended Saturday, served as a platform for potential 2012 presidential candidates to introduce themselves to the conservative voting base.
During the conference, possible contenders poured into the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington D.C. to share values and build their platform.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke to social conservatives about his Christian beliefs. "We as a nation need to turn towards God, not away from God," he stated.
Meanwhile, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum reached out to social conservatives and said, "Social issues – those are the issues that matter."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shared his view on American exceptionalism.
"I refuse to believe that America is just another place on the map with a flag. I believe that America is an exceptional nation of freedom and opportunity and hope," he told the crowd of nearly 11,000.
A Fox News poll of CPAC contenders shows there is no overwhelming favorite among the crowd.
Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul was revealed to be the favorite in the poll with 24.3 percent of the votes. Paul also won the CPAC's straw poll for the second year in a row. Close behind him are former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin with 21.2 percent and Romney with 19.7 percent of the votes.
Republican leaders seemed equally split over the GOP contenders.
In a Sunday interview with NBC television show "Meet the Press," current House Speaker John Boehner said he's never seen a more wide-open race for the GOP nomination. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he's looking for the "the most electable person" and that person has yet to be seen.
Bishop Jackson was quick to point out the limitations of many top contenders. In his view, Palin is too divisive between liberals and conservatives to be a strong contender.
Palin, who served as McCain's vice presidential running mate, has grown in popularity among Tea Party Republicans. "Unfortunately Sarah Palin will be stuck in a Hillary Clinton-type role," he remarked.
Paul is not a strong candidate either, said Jackson, because he is not a strong enough social conservative.
Both Jackson and Tom Minnery, vice president of Focus on the Family's government and public policy arm CitizenLink, sat on the Traditional Marriage and Society panel where they spoke about the virtues of preserving marriage.
Jackson said Paul is more of a fiscal conservative.
Minnery questioned Paul's staying power.
During his 2008 primary race, Paul's campaign had a strong online presence and raised a lot of money. Despite this, he continually came in a distant third in the Super Tuesday primary races. He garnered 35 delegates compared to Romney's 278 and Sen. John McCain(R-Ariz.)'s 1,575. Paul dropped out of the race in June.
Minnery said of Paul, "He has a very small but very strong following." However, the FOTF official said Paul's base will not be enough to help him win the GOP primary.
"I suspect that he will not prevail," Minnery predicted.
Both Minnery and Jackson are also doubtful of businessman Donald Trump's chances. Trump told the crowd he is considering a run and would announce his intentions in the summer.
"If he is serious, he's going to have to prove he has fire in his belly," commented Romney.
Jackson predicted that Romney has great qualities. "Mitt Romney has a lot going for himself. He looks the part speaks the part," he observed.
Mitt Romney was a strong contender in the 2008 primaries and may be a strong contender again. However, he will likely face challenges from fiscal conservatives for his health care creation in Massachusetts. His proposed plan, since dubbed Romney care, was the model for Obama's health care reform. House Republicans are currently trying to repeal the reform bill, asserting that it will hurt businesses and kill jobs.
Jackson also noted that Romney's faith is still a question among conservative evangelicals. "The mystery of Mormonism will still [haunt] him," said the Maryland megachurch pastor.
Jackson believes that Romney could serve as a good vice presidential candidate. So too would former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
He also likes former Coca-Cola executive and Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain for vice president. Cain has already set up a presidential exploratory committee.
Gingrich is "probably the most gifted [political] strategist in the whole group," Jackson praised. However, he said that Gingrich's messy martial life (divorced twice, married three times) may turn off social conservatives.
Jackson said he believes that Huckabee will be a good presidential candidate. "I think he's the one who could win, if he can get the right team," he shared. However, he said Huckabee, who ran in 2008 sans large campaign donors, needs someone to help him raise money and manage his campaign.
Despite seeing a few prospects, Jackson said, "I think we [as conservatives] are looking for who else might come on the scene."
Jackson lamented that many candidates focused primarily on economics and not the family issues that challenge America. "It seems as though there is a move within conservative circles that it's all about the money," he said.
The conservative African-American evangelical leader said a real presidential stand-out must be able to rally people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds around a socially conservative platform.
Similarly, Minnery urged candidates to "speak boldly and profoundly about the decline in family."