The annual get-together for young conservative activists, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), ended on Saturday, but its impact will last long beyond.

As with any massive political gathering with the potential for news coverage, CPAC had its share of lime-light loving pols and personalities. This candidate cattle-call drew its fair share of also-rans and political oddities, from NY Gubernatorial “The Rent is Too Damn High” Party candidate, Jimmy Macmillan, to perennial potential Presidential candidate Donald Trump.

But the Donald has a trump card in notorious dirty trickster and political consultant, Roger Stone, who made the case for a Trump candidacy on his website, Stone Zone. For anyone looking to learn more about Trump’s shall we say, colorful, consultant check out the Weekly Standard profile on Stone here or the New Yorker write-up here.

Beyond the attendees looking for nothing more than a mention in the press, there were many 2012 potential who took their turn at the plate. CPAC offers one of the first major events of the cycle to reach out to a core audience of young conservatives. Originally started by President Reagan, CPAC has become an amateur racetrack of sorts for any candidate with national ambitions to test-drive their message. If you want to see if your message sells, give it a shot at CPAC.

Some speeches brought the house down (Newt Gingrich) while others lacked much of a punch (Gary Johnson). One surprise was Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels whose speech earned the much-coveted Drudge Report lead story placement. Daniels got himself in trouble a little while ago when he called for a truce on social issues, but the CPAC crowd seemed no less enamored of him.

A number of social conservative groups, such as the Family Research Council, boycotted CPAC over its inclusion of a gay conservative group, GOProud. It didn’t seem to affect attendance, with the CPAC notching the largest attendance yet, at over 11,000 attendees.

Like most political gatherings on the Presidential campaign circuit, CPAC had its own straw poll.

The winner? Ron Paul.

Since the 2008 campaign, Ron Paul followers have developed a seeming expertise in winning straw polls. 

Since 2012 is the first Presidential cycle to include the Tea Party influence, the question still to be answered is: do Ron Paul supporters stick by their man or will the bevy of other Tea Party favored candidates like Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin gain their loyalty? Beyond that, will a Ron Paul candidacy show splits in the Tea Party, between Ron Paul libertarians and conservative activists less enamored with his views on cutting defense spending?

One thing is for sure – the 2012 cycle is on and its cast of characters will surely deliver a spirited contest.