This morning President Bush was the conservatives' rock star. He was greeted at Washington, D.C.'s Omni Shoreham Hotel by a packed and enthusiastic crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference with shouts of "I love you, George" and the waving of Bush/Cheney campaign signs.
It was a somewhat surprising reception for a president who reached his lowest public approval rating Friday, at 30 percent, and had been blamed a day before at the same conference for the federal government's expansion under his administration.
It was more surprising because it was 7:20 in the morning.
The president had had to move his planned appearance at CPAC up several hours so he could spend the majority of they day surveying tornado damage in Tennessee, meaning CPAC attendees had to get up a whole lot earlier.
And they did. Some pulled all-nighters; others woke several hours before dawn to go stand in the seemingly never-ending line winding through the hotel's hallways.
Justin Hawkins, a member of the Georgetown University College Republicans, got up at 2:30 a.m. to see the president. His friend, Liz Pinero of Grove City College, came downstairs from her hotel room to wait at 4:15 a.m. Some conference attendees arrived as early as 3 a.m.
But as the president took the stage, after being introduced by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, the yawns and bleary eyes disappeared and out came a punch of enthusiasm.
"Are there conservatives in the house?" one raucous supporter yelled.
The president's speech touched on everything from stem cell research, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the legacy of Ronald Reagan, a president whose name has time and time again been brought up during this campaign season. It also stood to unify the movement and the party behind a candidate, presumably John McCain, whose speech at CPAC yesterday was greeted with both enthusiasm and some boos.
"Since I spoke with you last, some things have changed," said Bush, who hadn't appeared at CPAC in eight years. "It seems like my hair is a little grayer, and my jokes are a little older and some of my speeches are a little windier," he told a mostly young crowd of supporters.
"Some things haven't changed—the principles I believe in and my deep, abiding faith in the American people," he said.
In the end the wait had been worth it. There was something in Bush's speech for every conservative. Pinero, the vice president of the Grove City College Life Advocates, was pleased with Bush's comments on being prolife. Silas Finnegan, also of Grove City, had been up since 4:20 a.m., but loved hearing Bush talk about Reagan. "It was a home run speech," he concluded.