Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's straw poll victory at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference wasn't unexpected for the presidential contender. In third place, however, was a surprise finisher.

Dr. Ben Carson is one of a handful of black Republicans that conservatives are buzzing about this year. While the GOP has made strides in cultivating viable black candidates, the party still has difficulty resonating with black voters.

He may not have the rock-star status of top conservatives like Paul or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, but Carson's following is growing.

Start with a big ballroom at a resort hotel just outside D.C. Add thousands of conservative activists. Stir in hundreds of political journalists, and you've got an irresistible attraction for any Republican presidential hopeful.

For those with their eye on the Oval Office, it's also an early audition before a key audience.

It's the annual Conservative Political Action Conference — CPAC for short — where there's always talk of the next presidential election. This year as many as 10 possible 2016 candidates were invited to speak during the three-day event.

The Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative activists, routinely attracts big names in the Republican party — and this year's no different. It starts Thursday.

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual gathering of conservatives which is part pep rally, part trade show, part revival meeting and part political cattle call, rolls into Washington this week.

As the 2014 version gets underway, one of the major questions hanging over the event is this: how much juice does the Tea Party still have?