When I first agreed to attend the CLC, I thought about how long it had been since I'd been in a Nevada casino. The last time was on my honeymoon in Lake Tahoe, almost 14 years ago, so I wondered whether I'd bother to gamble at all. I finally got a roll of quarters -- and discovered that most machines have no coin slots any more, instead using casino cards for gambling. I finally found one of the few that still accepts coins, and turned the $10 into $33. Since I'm suddenly flush, I decided to treat myself to a buffet breakfast.
In some ways, the CLC has been the same kind of surprise. A first-time event usually suffers from a thin level of organizational skills and a dearth of interesting speakers. The CLC avoided both of these pitfalls, and in fact put on a very strong schedule of events. They drew two presidential candidates -- three, if you include Alan Keyes -- and several hundred attendees. In fact, I think the schedule grew in strength, right through to the ending banquet. Chuck Muth and Eric Odom deserve congratulations for their hard work and obvious success.
The straw poll came out as I would have predicted. Ron Paul had a large contingent of supporters at the CLC, and even though Paul inexplicably ignored this event, they remained loyal to him. He won about a third of the votes and finished far ahead of his competitors. If I recall (this was announced at the dinner), Duncan Hunter finished second, and Romney finished third. Both appeared at the CLC, and both impressed the crowd. Hunter made a bigger impact because he mixed with the crowd, shaking hands and taking the time to talk with the attendees. "Undecided" beat most of the rest of the candidates, and Giuliani came in dead last or just above it.
The big surprise for me was in the friendships I discovered at the CLC. Organizing conservatives usually has more in common with herding cats, and it usually only takes an hour at most before conservatives start squabbling between our various factions. I won't tell you that this didn't happen at the CLC, as it most assuredly did. However, our proximity also allowed us to make connections, dialogue on the core principles at stake, and bring more unity of purpose than most might have guessed.
They're already making plans for CLC '08. I'll be back, and I hope more will join us.