Today I’m traveling back to Washington DC for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). I remember my first introduction to CPAC was during my advisory assignment in Afghanistan in 2007. I had heard of the event previously, but after the November 2006 midterm debacle and the ascendancy of the liberal progressives’ I took a keener notice.
It was in January 2007 during my 10-day leave from theater that I met with Donna Brosemer at a restaurant in Delray Beach before redeploying when she asked me to consider running for US Congress. Watching and reading about CPAC from afar helped me begin to ascertain whether or not I wanted to pursue that endeavor. And in May 2007, I came home for a short visit and made the decision to run.
The first CPAC I ever attended was in 2008. What an experience. There I was, just two months back from a two-and-a-half year assignment in Afghanistan — I recall doing interviews from Kandahar and writing missives to garner folks’ attention. A special hat tip to Pam Geller and her Atlas Shrugs blog for publishing my reports. And there I was at CPAC in 2008, unknown and just trying to meet influential conservatives.
Well, I ran in the 2008 cycle and with only $580,000 in our war chest we took on a career Democrat politician with $3 million and lost with 45.3 percent of the vote. It astonished people and I remember two phone calls, one from then Representative Mike Pence and the other from Representative Lynn Westmoreland, both encouraging me to run again, and I did.
I remember attending the 2009 CPAC and the atmosphere was just flat. I got the opportunity to sit on a panel and speak, what an honor.Throughout 2009 we worked hard to garner support and as the Affordable Care Act became a focal policy issue, I began to hone my skills beyond foreign policy and national security to domestic policies. In October 2009 I was asked to speak at a conservative grassroots rally at a place called “Revolution” in Ft. Lauderdale. And thanks to local activists, the video of that little 6 minute speech went viral. Next thing I know I was on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox and received an invite to speak at CPAC 2010 as the final speaker before the Saturday keynote speaker Glenn Beck. And I walked off the stage to meet Beck. In 2010 my American journey continued and I was elected to the US House of Representatives. So fast forward to February 2011, a Tuesday evening the week of CPAC. My Chief of Staff, Jonathan Blyth, and I were seriously grubbing at our newly minted favorite cheap Chinese restaurant in downtown DC when Jonathan’s cell phone starting beeping. He answered and then looked at me and asked, “Congressman, do you want to be the CPAC keynote speaker?” I almost choked and responded yes — the rest is history.
So tomorrow I head back to CPAC 2014 — for me, the place where my American dream came to fruition. From watching the event in the combat zone of Kandahar Afghanistan to being a keynote speaker in four years, I will always be honored to have stood on the grandest of stages for an American conservative, the Conservative Political Action Conference.
See y’all there tomorrow and through the week!