Southern Republicans Gather in New Orleans with RNC Controversy Front and Center

Evidently, Mitt has no apologies for RomneyCare at the moment and probably won't for a while. Some doubt whether Romney can recover and make a solid run for president in 2012. It would certainly be awkward for him to advocate for repeal of ObamaCare while still defending his own health care program that features individual mandates forcing citizens to buy insurance and several other similarities with ObamaCare. I don't know if chameleons can change into that color. But if Romney can go from supporting a government-sponsored solution for our health care problems to born-again advocate for free market fixes, he will have become a new species of lizard that not only changes color but is capable of hypnotizing its prey.

Also canceling at the last minute was Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. With no real chance to shine among the rest of the pack, Pawlenty probably figures his time is better spent elsewhere. He decided to go to a ceremony honoring Iraq veterans instead.

No preview of this shindig would be complete without a look at Ron Paul and the zaniness that surrounds his every appearance. I predict beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ron Paul will win the straw poll being conducted on Saturday for presidential contenders. This is actually a no-brainer. First, Paul wins every meaningless poll anywhere one is held, whether online or at some event like the SRLC. Secondly, Paulbots are stacking the deck:

Meanwhile, Paul and his fans seem to be preparing for another end-run straw-poll victory at the SRLC. Earlier this month, the Web site of his group Campaign for Liberty was "proud to announce a massively discounted rate on SRLC tickets for our supporters at $30 a ticket." Seems an anonymous donor bought a block of tickets for Paul fans. (VIP tickets to the SRLC are $700 apiece, while "partial access" tickets, allowing the bearer to watch most sessions elsewhere in the hotel via closed-circuit TV, are only $119. It wasn't clear which tickets were in the Paul bloc.)

"Fans" is a good description of Paul backers. In many ways, they remind me of Chicago Bears supporters who show up for December home games in sub-zero temperatures and, after a few nips of the creature, remove their shirts and enjoy the game, totally oblivious to the frigid conditions. The Paulites really have no clue regarding their effect on ordinary people who are astonished at their cult-like devotion to this little angry man who thinks the Fed is the devil incarnate and that we should go back on the gold standard. Paul is a traveling side show and has no more support today -- 2% among national Republicans -- than he did in 2008. Because of this, he can do little more than disrupt the proceedings. He is scheduled to speak on Saturday, immediately prior to Michael Steele's address.

The Southern Republican Leadership Conference is billed as "the most prominent Republican event outside of the Republican National Convention." Given all the sidebar stories and drama that may play out away from the main stage, this may be one to remember.