TODAY   |  March 08, 2014

Sarah Palin will aim to unite, energize party at CPAC

The Conservative Political Action Conference wraps up Saturday as Republicans fight to take over the Senate and win back the White House in 2015. It is expected that Sarah Palin will rally the conservative base in the final speech of the event. NBC’s Kristen Welker reports.

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>>> sarah palin takes the stage tonight as the final speaker of the conservative political action conference , or cpac , as it's known. the three-day event has seen some big political names and a big rallying cry, as republicans fight to take over the senate and win back the house in 2016 . kristen welker is in florida city this morning, where president obama is on vacation. kristen , good morning.

>> reporter: hey, erica. good morning to you. while president obama vacations here with his family in florida, cpac enters its final day back in maryland. it has always been part political convention , part pep rally . this year, there's been some pretty serious infighting, so tonight, sarah palin will aim to unite and energize the party faithful. few people rally the conservative base like sarah palin .

>> thank you so much!

>> reporter: and it's expected tonight will be no different, as she prepares to deliver the final speech at cpac .

>> a bold, inspiring vision for america.

>> we are coming together and we're going to do this.

>> i'm talking about electing lovers of liberty.

>> reporter: potential 2016 candidates took the stage, from former presidential candidate and texas governor rick perry --

>> defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy .

>> reporter: -- to rand paul, who called for the base to look beyond party affiliation.

>> we must elect men and women of principle and conviction and action who will lead us back to greatness.

>> reporter: but it was tea party favorite, senator ted cruz , who may have drawn the most scrutiny, when he argued softening core conservative principles is a losing strategy.

>> of course, all of us remember president dole and president mccain and president romney.

>> reporter: and that brought this sharp rebuke from senator john mccain , who said, while he can take the heat, cruz should apologize to dole, a world war ii veteran.

>> i wonder if he thinks that bob dole stood for principle on that hilltop in italy, when he was so gravely wounded and left part of his body there fighting for our country.

>> reporter: dole also chided cruz and argued his own record, "is that of a political conservative ." cruz said he won't back down on matters of conservative principle, even if others may disagree. the event culminates in the straw poll tonight. a whopping 26 candidates this year. and while it doesn't mean everything, it can be a good indicator of strong grassroots support. erica.

>> we know it will get plenty of attention. kristen , thanks.