The 2012 presidential election may seem a long way off for citizens taking things one day at a time, but for those with aspirations to the highest office in the land it’s never too early to start campaigning. This month, the most ambitious politicians from the Republican Party will gather in New Orleans to begin testing the waters.

The city is hosting the Southern Republican Leadership Conference April 8-11 at the Hilton Riverside Hotel, and it’s shaping up to be a who’s who of the most high-profile GOP leaders and media personalities aligned with conservative politics.

“This will be the largest Republican event in our state since 1988,” says SRLC director Charlie Davis, referring to the year New Orleans hosted the Republican National Convention.

The SRLC is held every two to four years and brings together the top Republican activists, candidates and elected officials from 14 Southern states. The three-day agenda at the conference includes training, briefings, receptions and speeches from the leaders of the Republican Party, though the SLRC is best known for its Presidential Straw Poll. Its results are followed closely by the national media, and the poll is touted by many pundits as the unofficial launch of the presidential election cycle for Republicans.

“Every Republican (presidential) nominee since Ronald Reagan has spoken at this conference in past years,” says Davis.

As of press time, the list of speakers for the event included former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin; Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal; former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum; Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour; Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; and Indiana Congressman Mike Pence. They will share the stage with plenty of grandees of conservative politics outside of public office, including influential lobbyists and donors.

“For New Orleans and Louisiana it’s a huge honor to be chosen to host this conference, which meant being selected through a very competitive process,” Davis says.

While Louisiana voted Republican in six of the last nine presidential elections, New Orleans has remained a Democratic stronghold. But Davis says that’s all the more reason for the Republicans to bring their conference to the Crescent City.

“It’s an opportunity to talk directly to Democrats and independents and bring them our message,” he says.   
General admission for the SRLC sold out months in advance but other levels are available. See for event details.