A big change for the GOP 2016 hopefuls at CPAC

The Inside Politics Forecast
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Story highlights

  • The Conservative Political Action Conference is considering a new format for the 2016 candidates
  • Ted Cruz is planning a Florida incursion, and he's made a new hire
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker seizes the moment as Mitt Romney exits the GOP race

Washington (CNN)Republican 2016 presidential maneuvering dominated our Sunday trip around the "Inside Politics" table:

1. This will not be your father's CPAC

The cast changes, somewhat, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, but for years the format has been the same: back-to-back-to-back-to-back speeches by politicians and activists.
    A big change for 2016 hopefuls at CPAC
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    But this year will be different, and perhaps include some interesting interaction involving 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls.
    Politico's Mike Allen had the scoop on some of the new format ideas on the table as the planning enters its final stages.
    "They're going to try to have as many of the candidates on stage as they can, maybe with an anchor asking them questions, then maybe have their board members asking the questions, have people from the audience asking them questions," he said. "And that's part of the Conservative Political Action Conference trying to say to Republicans, 'We're going to play a role in vetting these people. Here's what they look like without a teleprompter.' "

    2. A Cruz Florida incursion, plus a veteran hire

    It's no surprise that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will be speaking to two big conservative gatherings this month: the annual conferences of CPAC and The Club for Growth.
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    But this will be fun to watch: an incursion into "enemy" territory. Cruz has agreed to be the keynote speaker next week at the Duval County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner in Jacksonville, Florida -- home territory of GOP prospects Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
    Cruz is also staffing up as he gets closer to making the obvious official. CNN is told that longtime Newt Gingrich spokesman and strategist Rick Tyler is joining the Cruz political operation, adding a veteran communications operative with D.C. and presidential campaign experience to the team.

    3. Walker seizes the Romney exit opening

    Jeb Bush is an obvious winner now that Mitt Romney has bowed out of the 2016 GOP race: The two leading establishment figures were courting many of the same donors and operatives.
    But Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also sensed an opening and acted quickly, and CNN's Peter Hamby tells us it was a smart and effective play.
    "He has been as aggressive as Jeb Bush in making phone calls and hiring staff, digital people, fundraisers," said Hamby.
    "This is really interesting to watch, because the invisible primary is not just about poll numbers and who's up and who's down. It's what you're doing with it. And he's actually done a lot, especially with the departure of Mitt Romney from the field."

    4. A South Carolina player not named Lindsey

    South Carolina's senior senator, Lindsey Graham, says he might make a long-shot bid for the GOP nomination. Now, his junior colleague, Sen. Tim Scott, is making moves to expand his influence in the state that votes third in the nominating process.
    Scott this week is playing host to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, yet another 2016 prospect, for a forum about educational choice.
    And Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post reports that it's part of an effort by Scott to expand his national profile and influence in the presidential race. He is up for re-election in 2016, and he plans to help his campaign by inviting all of the Republican presidential contenders to join him.
    "Not certain yet whether or not he'll actually make an endorsement," said Henderson. "Someone asked him whether or not Lindsey Graham runs, whether or not that would be an automatic endorsement. He said maybe, maybe not."
    His endorsement would help, and Henderson says that while Scott very much likes and respects his colleague Graham, he can't take things for granted.

    5. Romney's gone, but Democrats hope the playbook still works for Jeb

    Mitt Romney decided against a third run for the presidency in 2016, but Democrats aren't ready to throw away their anti-Romney playbook just yet.
    As long as Jeb Bush has a prominent place in the GOP field, the Democrats think -- Julie Pace of The Associated Press tells us -- those notes might still come in handy.
    "They both worked in finance, they both backed the Wall Street bailout, they both opposed the auto bailout," said Pace. "After Jeb Bush makes his speeches, you sometimes get notes from Democrats saying: 'Oh, look how similar this is to things Mitt Romney said.'
    "The obvious advantage for Jeb Bush is that he's seen this playbook run before. He may be able to come up with a better strategy than Mitt."