Squeezed amid the dozens of stalls you'd expect to find last week at CPAC—stalls that were pro-gun, pro-life and pro-liberty—sat a group that was more unexpected: Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.
For years, those who supported the death penalty largely skewed conservative, arguing it was the appropriate punishment for taking a life. A Gallup poll in 2004 showed 3-in-4 conservatives supported capital punishment.
But that stereotype no longer holds true. As Maryland prepares to become the 18th state to ban the death penalty, CCADP advocacy coordinator Marc Hyden tells Whispers the reaction the group is getting from conservatives is: "Where have you been for so long?"
Hyden says hundreds of people at CPAC signed up to join the group, which officially launched at the conference. For those who didn't sign up, Hyden, who previously worked for the NRA, came ready with reasons why they should. He says he sways some conservatives with the pro-life, religious argument, but more often Hyden talks about the cost.
"It is widely accepted that [the death penalty] is so much more expensive than life without parole," Hyden says. "If there is a cheaper alternative, we as fiscal conservatives should embrace it."
It may be no surprise, then, that the group has also been greeted with open arms by libertarians, whose political stars, Ron and Rand Paul, both oppose the death penalty. Several bigger names have also jumped aboard the CCADP team, including Jay Sekulow, a top litigator of free speech and religious liberty cases. Sekulow tells Whispers he's been concerned about the death penalty from a legal perspective for years, but that there was never one conservative group that concentrated on the issue.
"We're in the infancy stages of a movement to galvanize awareness," says Sekulow, noting that several Republican governors have come out against the issue in recent years, such as Gov. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. "This issue now crosses political lines."