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Sunday, March 17, 2013 - Page updated at 06:30 p.m.

Palin continues defense of tea-party values

By Sarah Wheaton
The New York Times

OXON HILL, Md. — Sarah Palin’s appearances no longer inspire speculation about her presidential aspirations, but her reception at a gathering of conservatives Saturday underscored her enduring popularity with the right.

In a speech, she offered zingers for the Republican base but also a strenuous defense of her tea-party friends who are challenging the Republican establishment.

In a pep talk at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Palin, a former governor of Alaska and Republican vice-presidential nominee, attacked President Obama and Beltway Republican groups that are promoting traditional candidates over insurgents in Republican primaries.

“More background checks?” she asked, railing against gun-control proposals offered by Democrats in Congress. “Dandy idea, Mr. President. Should’ve started with yours.” Lines like that frequently brought the crowd to its feet, as did a dramatic sip from a Big Gulp cup, to mock Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on soda cups bigger than 16 ounces in New York.

Despite her exit from electoral politics after the 2008 presidential election during which she was John McCain’s running mate, Palin retains influence within the conservative movement.

Many of its upstart officeholders credit her with their success. They include Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, who introduced Palin hours before he delivered the keynote address.

“She can pick winners,” said Cruz, who beat the state’s lieutenant governor in a primary last year. “I would not be in the U.S. Senate today if it were not for Gov. Sarah Palin.”

Acknowledging that “we can’t just ignore that we lost a big election,” Palin said, “the last thing we need is Washington, D.C., vetting more candidates.”

In an apparent reference to Karl Rove, who established the Conservative Victory Fund to oppose insurgent primary candidates, she added, “the architects can head on back to ... ” Jeers from the crowd drowned out her proposed destination.

Palin’s name was one of 23 that appeared on the ballot for the convention’s annual straw poll, an early measure of the base’s enthusiasm. Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, won a narrow plurality, 25 percent, of the 2,930 votes cast. Sen. Marco Rubio, another tea-party favorite, came in second, with 23 percent.

Their combined showings illustrate the emergence of a younger generation on the right, both among elected officials and the base. Most of those voting in the straw poll, 52 percent, were between 18 and 25, according to organizers.

Some much-discussed potential candidates, including Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who gave a prominent speech Friday night, were not on the ballot. And 14 percent of those voting wrote in a name that did not appear.

On Saturday, those gathered at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington heard from two other rising stars. Gov. Scott Walker, of Wisconsin, who beat back a union-driven recall effort last year, spoke about political lessons from his state that could be applied nationally.

A new face to many was that of Ben Carson, a celebrated neurosurgeon. Famous for separating conjoined twins, he quickly earned the affections of conservatives when he criticized Obama’s tax and health policies at the National Prayer Breakfast.