On "The Early Show" this morning CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer alluded to the usual suspects of 2012 candidates in attendance, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but noted that two people who are expected to run for Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty aren't bothering to show up.
Gingrich took aim at President Obama and his White House courtside interview on "The Early Show" one week ago: "Shooting three-point shots may be clever, but it doesn't put anybody to work," he said.
"I think what's going on in New Orleans now is about the Republican Party and not yet really about the American people and what their reaction is," said Schieffer. "These would-be candidates are trying to get the attention of donors to begin to build a base here. This is very, very early in this whole process.
"The next serious thing Republicans have to do is concentrate on these Congressional elections later this year," Schieffer said. "Once we get past that, I think you'll begin to see the presidential candidates, as it were, begin to sort themselves out and start appealing to people."
Also in New Orleans this weekend is the former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.
CBS News national correspondent Dean Reynolds said the 3,000 Republicans in attendance will be looking for any sign of the future intentions of Palin, who has been busy stumping for fellow Republicans, delivering high-profile speeches to conservative groups, and becoming a regular presence on TV.
Virtually everywhere she goes she receives a rapturous reception from her carefully-selected audiences, Reynolds notes, but a new CBS News poll would suggest that her appeal cannot be broadened to make her a viable presidential contender Only 24 percent of the country (only 43 percent of Republicans) views her favorably.
Schieffer repeated his belief that she will not be a contender.
"I think she's very good at raising money," Schieffer said, "I think she's very good at coining phrases and so on. But let's not forget this is someone who resigned governorship of a very small state, a very small population.
"I find it very difficult to believe that someone who could resign an office like that could actually be a viable candidate when it comes right down to that. You think about when she gets in a primary, when people are going to vote, her opponent is bound to say, 'Sarah, when the going gets tough, will you get out?' I think that's still a very tall hill for her to climb. Others might disagree with me, but I still believe that."
Which begs the question for Republicans in 2012: If not Palin, who?
CBS News political analyst Marc Ambinder says that the problem for the GOP is, "When you think 'Republican' these days, no one's face comes to mind."