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Live Reporting

By Tim Swift, Taylor Kate Brown and Anthony Zurcher

All times stated are UK

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  1. Post update

    And that concludes our live coverage from Oklahoma. Thanks for joining us.

    For more coverage of US politics and the 2016 race check out Anthony's blog.

  2. Jeb and Ted

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    The curtain has come down on the first day of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

    Jeb Bush

    Tomorrow has the meat of the political line-up, with scheduled appearances from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

    Mr Cruz, the keynote speaker at the evening's dinner gala, appears to be a favourite among the crowd here, who are anticipating his appearance.

    All eyes will be on Mr Bush in particular, however, as he looks to recover from what was a rough week of questions about the Iraq War and how he differs from his brother, former President George W Bush.

  3. 'What we need'

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    Rick Perry got a warm reception from the crowd here in Oklahoma City. What was it that caught their eye?

    "I like his confidence, I like his executive experience, I think what he said is what we need," says Donna Hughes of Ardmore, Oklahoma. "I am really thrilled that he gave a good speech."

    Donna Hughes at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference

    She says she still hasn't settled on a candidate, however. "I want to hear from all of the speakers."

  4. Overcoming the Oops!

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    The term "dark horse" gets thrown around lightly. Anyone who's back in the polls seems to qualify for the label, no matter how long their odds.

    Texas Governor Rick Perry deserves the label, however. While his support is low right now - according to RealClearPolitics his 2.4% national support is only good for ninth place - he has the resume and the political skill to make a move.

    rick perry in 2011 and 2015
    Image caption: Left - Rick Perry on the night of "oops" in 2011, Right - Today in Oklahoma City

    Given how he ended his 2012 race for president, with an embarrassing "oops" gaffe during a Republican debate and defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire, that may be a bit of a surprise. But doubters should remember that Mr Perry was the longest-serving governor in Texas history for a reason. He's a skilled politician and a talented public speaker.

    Those abilities were on display on Thursday, as he blended red-meat foreign policy lines with a populist streak that could appeal to grass-roots Republicans.

    "Capitalism is not corporatism," he said. "It is not a guarantee of reward without risk. We need to return hope and opportunity to our Main Street citizens."

    For a brief moment in 2012, before the stumbles, Mr Perry was considered a front-runner for the Republican nomination. It'll be a long climb to return to that status this time around, but Americans love a political comeback story.

  5. Presidents past and present

    "We made it through Jimmy Carter, we'll make it through the Obama years," Mr Perry says, holding out a long pause in this part of his usual speech. "Believe me."

    Obama and Carter
  6. Obama and Oklahoma

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    The audience here likes Rick Perry - probably because, as the governor of a neighbouring state, he knows what makes this Oklahoma-centric crowd tick.

    He talks immigration - "it's time for Washington to do its job and secure our borders" - and gets a standing ovation.

    He bashes Obama's energy policy -"Barack Obama is pro-energy, except he opposes drilling for it, transporting of it or the exporting of it" - and gets cheers.

    "I was born just a few hundreds of miles from here," he says, "in a little place called Haskell County."

    Texans and Oklahomans have a bit of a rivalry - at least on the football field - but that seems water under the bridge right now.

  7. Rick Perry returns

    The last Republican presidential hopeful to take the stage on Thursday in Oklahoma City is former Texas Governor Rick Perry. He's set to announce his formal candidacy a few hundred miles south of here, in Dallas, on 4 June.

    Just like Rick Santorum, he dives immediately into foreign policy and the Islamic State's recent gains Iraq.

    "Isis is taking areas that we had secured with the treasure of American blood," he says.

    Then: "This season of chaos doesn't have to last… There is nothing wrong in America that a change of leadership can't fix."

    Rick Perry, former Texas governor and likely Republican presidential candidate, speaks at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 21 May 2015
  8. Santorum in review

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter


    Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum likes to remind people that he finished second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 race for the Republican nomination. He ended up winning 11 states, including first-in-the-nation Iowa.

    Like Top Gun, however, there are no points for second place. And this time around, he's in a much more crowded field. According to the latest RealClearPolitics poll, his national support stands at 2.3%, good enough for 10th place.

    Mr Santorum's campaign pitch - and his speech today - centred around national security and helping the "the little guy". He says the Republican Party is the party that supports the little guy, but often they don't get that point across to voters.

    Needless to say, Mr Santorum thinks he's the man to change that.

  9. Post update

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    tweets: "I won the Iowa caucus in 2012, but I started out at 4%, @RickSantorum says about current low poll numbers. "

  10. Post update

    Reid J. Epstein

    Reporter, The Wall Street Journal.

    John Mellencamp

    I suspect John Mellencamp won't be happy that Scott Walker came out to SRLC to his "Small Town."

    The liberal rocker has previously said he supports union rights and says Walker should think about that before using his songs in political events.

  11. 'Blue collar conservative'

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    Former Senator of Pennsylvania and potential U.S. presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks to attendees at a meet and greet event in Marshalltown, Iowa, United States, May 17, 2015
    Image caption: Santorum chats with some Iowa voters

    Rick Santorum likes to tout how he's a "blue collar conservative".

    Some are arguing we should "open the borders, and keep labour costs down," he says. "The problem is, you are labour costs," he adds, pointing toward the audience.

    We need to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the US who are competing against low-skilled native workers, he continues.

    How do we do that? He says he's "open to suggestions".

  12. Post update

    Jenna Johnson

    Washington Post reporter

    AT #SRLC2015, Rick Santorum says many low-income mothers don't get married because then they might lose their welfare benefits.

  13. Knives out

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    This is the difference between being a front-runner and toward the back of the pack - Governor Scott Walker doesn't mention his competitors for the nomination at all. Senator Rick Santorum, who is polling in the low single digits, doesn't have that luxury.

    "We can't have a nominee against Hillary Clinton who sees commander in chief as entry level position," he says, taking dead aim at candidates like Mr Walker. "We need someone who has experience, who has served in Washington on foreign policy committees… We don't want a candidate who represents the party whose foreign policy experience is a briefing book."

    Touting your Washington experience isn't a big applause line, but it's what's in Mr Santorum's hand - and he's playing it.

  14. More focus on foreign policy

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    Rick Santorum's speech is almost entirely on the Middle East and foreign policy. "ISIS was created by Barack Obama," he says, adding that reporters should ask Hillary Clinton if she supported President Obama taking troops out of Iraq.

    After Ramadi fell to the Islamic State on Sunday, we're seeing more and more sharp criticism along these lines.

  15. Post update

    Jim Antle

    Washington Examiner reporter

    After saying Obama created ISIS, Santorum says beating up on the president not sufficient. #SRLC2015

  16. Santorum on stage

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum speaks at the Republican Party of Iowa"s Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, May 16, 2015.
    Image caption: Rick Santorum in Iowa last week

    Rick Santorum is on the stage now, talking about how much he loves Oklahoma.

    He's set to formally announce his presidential candidacy in Pennsylvania on 27 May.

  17. 'He's done what he's said he'll do'

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    We've heard from Scott Walker. But why do his supporters back him over all the competition in this crowded field?

    John Hubanks of Oklahoma says: "I like what he's done in the state of Wisconsin. He's done what he's said he'll do. He's not afraid to fight and take on all opposition."

  18. Walker in review

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    Wisconsin Governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker speaks at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 21 May 2015

    Scott Walker has wrapped up his speech. It was pretty much his standard campaign boilerplate - complete with his Kohls shopping story - and the audience seemed relatively unengaged. That marks a contrast with the reception he received in Iowa in January, which helped rocket him to the top of the polls.

    He's still at the front of the pack, according to the latest RealClearPolitics poll aggregate, at 13.2%, good enough for a second-place tie with Marco Rubio, who will speak here tomorrow.

  19. Post update

    Scott Walker has also used social media to hit Hillary Clinton directly with both her association to Mr Obama and her time as Secretary of State - arguably her most popular role to date.

  20. Post update

    James Oliphant

    Reuters reporter

    Reince Prebus putting fear in crowd: Clinton will be sitting on a primary war chest while GOP nominee "probably will be broke." #SRLC2015

  21. Post update

    Molly Beck

    Wall Street Journal Reporter

    Scott Walker

    Long long line of VIP #SRLC2015 attendees waiting to get a photo with @ScottWalker.

  22. Post update

    Jenna Johnson

    Washington Post reporter

    Scott Walker says he is the only potential candidate who can "fight and win" -- and "that's what we need to move America forward." #SRLC2015

  23. Walker on foreign policy

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    Scott Walker, who has stumbled on foreign policy questions in the past, talks about a recent trip to Israel. He says he spoke to Israeli soldiers who "feel every day in Israel like we felt after 9/11".

    His next line gets a standing ovation: "We need a commander in chief who will tell it like it is. Radical Islamic terrorism is a threat to this country, and we're going to do something to stop it."

    Scott walker

    Once again, the biggest applause line at any political gathering of Republicans involves talk about supporting Israel and confronting the Islamic State.

  24. Post update

    Alice Ollstein

    ThinkProgress reporter

    @ScottWalker on Iran: "Why are we even talking about doing a deal with 'em?" Cites the 1979 hostage crisis to back up his point.

  25. Post update

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    Washington area is "68 square miles surrounded by reality," says Scott Walker.

    No Republican ever lost support by bashing the nation's capital. It's also a way for a Midwestern governor like Walker to differentiate himself from the US senators running against him. The senators have to spend the bulk of their time in DC, and Jeb Bush's name has put him firmly in the "Washington insider" camp.

  26. The Wisconsin way?

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is here, and he's busy touting his victories over liberal interests - including public unions - in his state. His ability to get conservative priorities passed in a swing state is the heart of his campaign pitch.

    "You know where the Occupy Wall Street movement started?" he asks. "Madison, Wisconsin. They came and occupied our capital."

    But we won that fight, he says.

  27. Post update

    Scott Walker

    Wisconsin governor

    Watch Gov. Walker's speech at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference LIVE

  28. Where's Walker?

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

    Mary Fallin is introducing Scott Walker, but he apparently isn't here yet. Now we get to see the Oklahoma governor's skill at chewing up time. Always risky to have politicians talk before audiences off-the-cuff.

  29. Not press shy

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    "Our candidates are not afraid to talk to the press," says Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin. That's been a common line of attack against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has only answered a handful of media questions since she announced her candidacy last month.

    Why isn't she more open to the press? Because she doesn't have to be. The only group less popular than politicians among the general public are reporters.

  30. Post update

    Jennifer Harper

    Washington Times

    tweets: 11 GOP hopefuls to Oklahoma to talk of energy, leadership and 2016

  31. Post update

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    Scott Walker

    Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the first presidential candidate to take the stage.

    Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh once said he has "the blueprint for the Republican Party if they are serious about beating the left". Here's a closer look at the one of the surprise front-runners of the campaign so far.

  32. Tweet Anthony

    Do you have a question for Anthony about the upcoming presidential election or the candidates? Tweet to @BBCNewsUS and see if Anthony answers on this page.

  33. Outlook for Jeb

    Jeb Bush

    One of the highest profile unofficial candidate is Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and son and brother of presidents.

    Bush hasn't declared yet. Instead, he's working closely with a political action committee, Right to Rise, which is expected to raise gobs of cash.

    But with recent stumbles by Mr Bush and family presidential ghosts haunting his campaign, what would happen to all that money if he loses?

  34. Post update

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    The event has taken on additional urgency with the recent announcement that Fox News will invite only the top 10 polling candidates to appear on the stage at the first presidential primary debate on 6 August.

    Front-runners in Oklahoma will try to build on their leads, while those back in the pack aim to make a splash.

    Thursday features candidates from both categories - Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, followed by the two Ricks - former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and ex-Texas Governor Rick Perry.

  35. Not southern enough?

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    Oklahoma City skyline

    Oklahoma City may seem like a strange place to hold a "Southern" Republican Leadership conference.

    The state was called the "Indian Territory" during the Civil War, after all. And the town itself feels much more Mid-west than past heart-of-Dixie locations New Orleans, Memphis and Charleston.

    But, as they say, follow the money. The guest of honour at an upcoming lunchtime "birthday bash" on Friday - Oklahoma oil industry billionaire T Boone Pickens - is a dead giveaway for why activists and candidates are descending on the state capital.

    Oklahoma City is an energy boomtown. One in six jobs in the state is connected to oil and natural gas industry.

    A 50-story high rise, the Devon Energy Center, towers over a downtown that is dotted by construction sites.

    There's big money in Oklahoma City right now. And where money leads, politicians inevitably follow.

  36. Welcome to Oklahoma

    Anthony Zurcher

    North America reporter

    OK sign at conference

    For the next three days Oklahoma City will be at the centre of the contest for the Republican presidential nomination.

    It's the site of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, an annual gathering of activists and officeholders from around the South, that hotbed of conservative passion.

    I'm here to report on the speeches of current and likely candidates - and speak to attendees about who is capturing their attention - and possibly their primary vote.