CPAC convention kicks off in Dallas ahead of Trump keynote speech Saturday night

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(DALLAS) — The annual Conservative Political Action Conference got underway Thursday in Dallas, Texas, one of the largest gatherings of conservatives and, since its inception in 1974, a crucial campaign stop for Republican hopefuls.

This year, organizers are hoping to galvanize a growing base of voters ahead of the upcoming midterm cycle with the aim of bringing a crashing “red wave” of GOP elected officials to Congress.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Fox News Anchor and GOP firebrand and Fox News host Sean Hannity kicked off the conference, focusing on migration, the weakness of Democrats, and big business. There was little mention of the issue of abortion despite the recent shift to a post-Roe America.

Headlining the three-day convention on Saturday night is Donald Trump who has teased running again president in 2024. The former president last spoke in late July at America First Policy Institute and Turning Point USA events in Washington where he focused primarily on promoting a harsh criminal justice agenda.

He’ll speak ahead of CPAC on Friday in Waukesha, Wisconsin, at a rally in support of Tim Michels, a Republican candidate for governor.

Abbott, who was absent from last year’s Dallas convention, was the first high-profile speaker on Thursday, joining a panel titled, “Texas: The Start of the Big Red Wave.”

He touted his friendship with Texas’ new business resident, Elon Musk of Tesla, addressed his busing of illegal immigrants to Washington and signified a growing trend of Latinos leaning toward Republican politicians.

“Texas believes in freedom Texas believes in the power of the individual. We want to have safe communities, a secure border. We want to cut your property taxes here in the Lone Star State because we know that is your money,” Abbott said to a cheering crowd on the panel with CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp and CPAC Senior Fellow Mercedes Schlapp.

“Keep Texas red. Fire Nancy Pelosi, impeach Mayorkas and put America on the right track.”

Speculation of a potential 2024 presidential bid has long followed Abbott, who energized the crowd talking about the potential economic growth in the Lone Star State.

“It was just in May this year that Texas became home to more Fortune 500 company headquarters than any other state in the United States of America,” he lauded.

He also took jabs at California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, who has recently targeted with Republican peers like Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis while chatter swirls about his own ambitions for a 2024 the Democratic presidential nomination.

Newsom has swung at the Texas governor by modeling a new California gun restriction law after Texas’ “heartbeat act,” which prohibits abortions after as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The California governor has also run full-page ads in the Austin American-Statesman, Houston Chronicle and El Paso Times to criticize Abbott’s stances on abortion rights and gun laws.

“The number one state Texans are moving to is California. Why would someone from Texas move to California? It’s because they like the Gavin Newsom type of liberalism,” Abbott said. “We have an exchange program going on,” he joked. “We’re getting the [Californian] conservatives, we’re sending them our liberals.”

Several other Texas conservatives are scheduled to speak at CPAC, including Sen. Ted Cruz on Friday morning, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday evening. Recently elected Rep. Mayra Flores is also slated to speak. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick spoke on Thursday afternoon.

Along with Abbott on Thursday, in a speech titled “How We Fight,” was Orban — fresh off of meeting with Trump at the former president’s Bedminster, New Jersey, Golf Club. He repeated some of his most controversial views, railing against LGBTQ issues and migration and a decline in Christianity across the Western world.

“Our values save us from repeating history’s mistakes. The horrors of Nazis and Communists happened because Western states in Continental Europe abandoned their Christian values. And today’s progressives are planning to do the same. They want to give up on Western values,” he said.

“The globalists can all go to hell, I have gone to Texas,” Orban said as he closed his remarks.

Hannity then delivered a fiery speech, beginning with comments about “election integrity” in the ongoing vote counting in Arizona’s GOP gubernatorial primary on Tuesday.

“We still don’t know if Kari Lake won that race for governor. Why not? How do we expect to have integrity in our elections if they can’t count the votes in 24 hours?” he said.

Hannity also rallied the crowd about GOP chances in the coming midterm elections.

“We’ll get America back on track. And then we’ll win and 2024 and then we’ll be back in the ballgame. And we will be that that beautiful city on a hill that Reagan spoke about. Let’s make that our goal. Let’s make that our dream. Let’s make that our prayer. In Jesus name. You can say Jesus, this is CPAC,” he said.

Abbott and Orban, Patrick and Hannity’s appearances will also be joined by and other high-profile Republican figures, including former vice presidential candidate and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

Trump-endorsed Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake is also slated to speak. The former local Fox News anchor is currently awaiting official results from the state’s Republican primary, though she has already declared victory on multiple occasions and has indicated that she would not concede if the results weren’t favorable to her campaign.

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon is also in the lineup as the keynote speaker at CPAC’s Saturday night Cattleman’s Ball, a week after he was found guilty of contempt of Congress for refusing to to cooperate with investigations into the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

CPAC will also feature its famed straw poll, a historically popular contest for gauging how popular Republican leaders are within the party.

This year will notably feature two separate straw polls — one with and another without Trump, who has won every one of the contests since 2019.

The CPAC main ballot will include Trump, DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, Cruz, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Also on the ballot are former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

The 2024 straw poll without Trump will instead feature Donald Trump Jr., along with all the aforementioned potential hopefuls.

DeSantis emerged from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference held in Orlando, Florida, in February as the potential GOP presidential candidate most competitive with former President Donald Trump, coming in second at 28% and far more favored than other GOP prospects, including other CPAC speakers Pompeo, Noem and Cruz, who all got less than 2%.

ABC News’ Alina Kim contributed to this report.

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