Talk show host Glenn Beck poked and prodded the Republican hierarchy Saturday night in a raucous address to fellow conservatives, comparing the party to an alcoholic who hasn't hit bottom and to golfer Tiger Woods before his public repentance.
Calling himself a recovering alcoholic in that context, Beck said he believes in the concept of redemption but that he doesn't think the GOP has taken the first step toward achieving it.
"I have not yet heard people in the Republican Party admit they have a problem," Beck told a packed ballroom in Washington. "I have not seen a come-to-Jesus meeting. . . . 'Hello, my name is the Republican Party and I've got a problem. I'm addicted to spending and big government.' . . . They need that moment."
The irreverent speech drew cheers, laughter and several standing ovations from the majority of the crowd gathered for the keynote address of the Conservative Political Action Conference, which organizers say drew 10,000 people over three days before closing Saturday night.
During that time some of the best-known figures of the Republican Party -- members of Congress, governors, presidential hopefuls -- trooped through to rail against the Obama administration and to woo conservatives. The political figures were greeted by the audiences mostly as kindred spirits.
Still, when hosts announced the results of the conference's presidential straw poll late Saturday, the audience went wild to hear the name of the winner: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former GOP candidate for the White House and prominent leader of the grass-roots libertarian movement. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came in second, almost 10 percentage points behind.
The poll was by no means scientific and only tested the temperature of about 2,400 of the conference's attendees.
As a snapshot of those who traveled from the 50 states to attend the conference, though, organizers think it offers a hint about what's going on at the grass-roots level.
More than half of respondents believe Republicans are within striking distance of taking back Congress, pollster Tony Fabrizio said, but participants are not necessarily happy with Republican Party leadership nor thrilled with the bench of presidential candidates.
The crowd that came out for the Beck speech was clearly skeptical of the party establishment, exuberantly applauding the radio and Fox television talk show host throughout his address.
According to Beck, the main villain is "progressivism," a word he wrote in big letters on a large chalkboard and labeled "a cancer" eating away at American ideals.
"Progressivism was designed to press past the Constitution," Beck said, charging that Republicans aren't giving Americans much of an alternative.
"Dick Cheney was here a couple of days ago," he said, "and he says it's going to be a good year for conservative ideas."
That may be true, he said, but Republicans should know that it's not good enough to "not suck as much as the other side," Beck said.