The Republican presidential candidate


Republicans vying for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 auditioned Thursday before some of the nation's most ardent conservative leaders, calling for the party to unite behind a clear agenda and draw contrasts with Democrats.

The contestants ranged from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party champion, to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a favorite of the GOP establishment.

"If you want to lose elections, stand for nothing," said Cruz, who referred as examples to the unsuccessful presidential bids of Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney. "When you don't stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don't stand for principle, Democrats celebrate."

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference offered an early tryout of sorts for a half-dozen Republican officials eager to win over the GOP's most passionate voters. At stake this year is the Senate majority, currently held by senators in President Barack Obama's party. But for all, the midterm elections could serve as a springboard for the next presidential contest.

Republicans have much to mend before 2016, starting with a stark ideological divide between the party's establishment and the super-conservatives who rose to power in the tea party-fueled 2010 elections that delivered a Republican House majority. Fiscal crises, compromises and a war of words have separated the factions from the top down despite widespread agreement that Obama's signature health care law should be overturned.

More than two years out from the election to succeed Obama, there's no clear front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination. But Republicans interested in the job are filing across the CPAC stage at a hotel complex just down the Potomac River from Washington ― bashing the media, criticizing Obama and making a case for being the candidate who can win the White House.

"Most people are realizing that it's cool to be selecting the most conservative in the race, but there's an additional caveat that needs to be added, and that's who can win in the general election," said American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas.

For Christie, the event was the first major step back into the national spotlight and a chance to revive his image from a political retribution scandal in which his aides ordered the closing of lanes near New Jersey's George Washington Bridge. Federal authorities also are investigating allegations that two members of Christie's Cabinet threatened to withhold storm recovery funds from heavily flooded Hoboken if the city's mayor didn't approve a favored redevelopment project.

Before the conservative crowd, the Republican governor ignored his administration's recent troubles and showed flashes of the fighting spirit that has defined his political career. Christie won a standing ovation after a 15-minute speech in which he declared: "We have to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for."

He later called on party leaders and tea party leaders alike to "start talking about what we're for and not what we're against."

The conservative conference comes less than a year after the Republican National Committee released a comprehensive plan to broaden the GOP's appeal after a disappointing 2012 election season.

Most of the speakers touched upon existing divisions within the GOP that threaten to derail their party's plans. They offered varied perspectives on foreign policy, social issues and political strategy, but each insisted that the Republican Party's future is bright.

The GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, downplayed intraparty divisions as "creative tension" and urged conservative activists to "give each other the benefit of the doubt" in the debate over the party's future.

"We, your representatives, we have to earn this benefit of the doubt," Ryan said. "We have to offer a vision. We have to explain where we want to take the country and how we're going to get there."

And as Obama and European leaders try to address Russian military aggression in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, Republicans faulted the president's leadership around the globe.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., pointing to global hot spots such as North Korea, Iran and Ukraine, said Obama thought he could shape global events "through the sheer force of his personality" and by giving speeches around the world.

"We cannot ignore that the flawed foreign policy of the last few years has brought us to this stage," Rubio said, adding that the U.S. was the one nation that could "stand up to the spread of totalitarianism ... The United Nations cannot do this."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal charged that the Democratic president is waging an "assault on the American dream" by redefining success as dependence upon government. He faulted Obama for not doing enough to help improve the nation's educational system and highlighted GOP efforts to give parents new choices.

The three-day conference runs through Saturday, when conference organizers will announce the results of their annual symbolic presidential straw poll. Several high-profile Republicans have yet to take the stage.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who won last year's straw poll, was addressing activists on Friday, along with former presidential candidates such as ex-Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

New York cockfighting

Officials in New York arrested nine people and rescued more than 3,000 birds in one of the largest cockfighting stings in U.S. history.

NEW YORK ― More than 3,000 birds were rescued in a three-county cockfighting takedown in New York this weekend that resulted in nine felony arrests, according to the state attorney general's office hong kong massage.

In a statement released Sunday night, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said it was the largest cockfighting takedown in New York state and among the largest in U.S. history.

"Operation Angry Birds" simultaneously targeted locations in Queens, Brooklyn and Ulster County with assistance from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Ulster County sheriff's office, Schneiderman said.

"Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive and barbaric practice that tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of the public and is known to facilitate other crimes," Schneiderman said.

NY cockfighting bust: "Operation Angry Birds" in Ulster County, N.Y.AP Photo: ASPCA
More than 3,000 birds were rescued in the three-county cockfighting takedown that began Saturday and ended Sunday
At the cockfights, spectators were charged admission fees and an additional fee for a seat within the secret basement location that housed the all-night fights, authorities said g-suite cardinal. Alcohol was sold without a permit and owners and spectators placed bets on the fights with individual wagers reaching $10,000.

In Queens, authorities raided a cockfighting bimonthly event where 70 people were taken into custody, including six who were arrested on felony prohibition of animal fighting charges. The ASPCA took control of 65 fighting birds, authorities said.

In Brooklyn, a pet shop was raided where 50 fighting birds were rescued from a basement beneath the pet shop. The pet shop's owner was arrested on a felony charge and cockfighting contraband, including artificial spurs and syringes used to inject performance enhancing drugs into the roosters, were also found.

The pet shop owner was charged with prohibition of animal fighting, prosecutors said.

Authorities also raided a 90-acre farm in Plattekill, rescuing as many at 3,000 birds. The farm's owners charged rent to cockfighting enthusiasts from various other states, including, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts to board, feed and care for roosters that were bred and trained to fight, prosecutors said. A farm manager and a farm hand at the scene were arrested.

This photo provided by the ASPCA shows "Operation Angry Birds" in Ulster County, N.Y., Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014.
Authorities said the roosters had razor-sharp gaffs attached in place of their spurs and were locked in small pens to be wagered on. The ASPCA has established a temporary shelter to house and care for the animals.

In New York, cockfighting and possession of a fighting bird at a cockfighting location are felonies and each charge carries a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a fine of up to $25,000, Ergonomic chair according to the attorney general's office. Paying to attend one of these events is a misdemeanor and carries a possible sentence of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.