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Sarah Palin revs up CPAC faithful

Sarah Palin, the GOP candidate for vice-president in 2008, and former Alaska governor, delivers the keynote address to activists from America's political right at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON - Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin gave her marching orders to the Republican base at the Conservative Poilitical Action Conference here on Saturday, telling conservatives to "stand united" around the eventual Republican presidential nominee to defeat President Obama.

"We must stand as conservatives," Palin said to a rousing standing ovation. "For the sake of our party, we must stand united with whoever our nominee is."

Palin steered clear of directly injecting herself into the Republican fight for the nomination, declining to endorse a candidate. 

"In America we believe that competition strengthens us. Competition elevates our name," Palin told the CPAC crowd. "Competition will lead us to victory in 2012. We must stay true to our principles. I believe that the competition has gotta keep going but let's make sure this competition brings out the best in our party."

The former vice presidential candidate did offer a veiled dig at Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney, however, who has been criticized by Newt Gingrich and others as having been a moderate as Massachusetts governor.

"Our candidate must be someone who must instinctively turn right," she said. "It's too late in the game to teach it."

While Palin has not endorsed, she told Fox News last month that she would support Newt Gingrich if she were voting in the South Carolina primary. Palin's husband, Todd, publicly endorsed Gingrich earlier in January. 

Palin spoke just moments after the announcement of results of the Washington Times/CPAC straw poll which Romney won with 38 percent support. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum took 31 percent support, while Gingrich came in a distant third with 15 percent.

Romney also was declared the winner of the Maine caucuses on Saturday, narrowly edging out Ron Paul. 

Palin's speech was the culmination of three days of networking, organizing and rallying of conservative Republicans from around the country.

They keynote speaker sought to tear down President Obama, bolster the tea party and unify the base. She energized the already enthusiastic group of activists with her cheerleading, sharp critiques and charisma.

She described Washington as a "cesspool," and that those in the nation's capital get too comfortable in the "hot tub."

"It is time that we drain the Jacuzzi, and we throw the bums out with the bathwater," she said.

Protestors attempted to disrupt Palin during her remarks, but the audience quickly responded with chants of "U.S.A." As the protestors were being escorted out, Palin quipped, "See, you just won."

Palin easily accomplished what she was brought there to do: energize the Republican Party.

Palin "fires up the base," said Al Cardenas, Chairman of the American Conservative Union, the host of CPAC. "She's an exciting speaker."

Conference attendees had been eagerly anticipating her speech: The Marriott ballroom was packed tight for the speech, and a line the length of a football field stretched out the door.

"This time next year we will have a true conservative in the Oval Office," Palin told the conference -- garnering one of her many standing ovations.

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