Watching for a Republican leader in New Orleans

New Orleans

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Michele Bachmann is one of the many potential candidates who is attending the Republican event

Men and women in red T-shirts, bearing the legend Republican Leadership Conference are striding around carrying boxes and chairs. They are preparing the rooms of the New Orleans Hilton Hotel for the next test for the would-be presidents.

The annual event, formerly known as the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, has drawn several notable presidential candidates and potential candidates to New Orleans in Louisiana.

"It's always fun," Pat, a local resident, tells me.

But the event may not be so much fun for the speakers. Traditionally, this is a pretty conservative affair, and it may be something of a beauty contest for the candidates on the right.

The conference is also particularly important for Michele Bachman.

Mary Anne and Judy are from Texas and are looking forward to seeing her speak after the congresswoman's well-regarded performance in the New Hampshire debate at the beginning of the week.

"I like her [Michele Bachmann] better than Palin," says Mary Anne, who is dressed in a smart white trouser suit complete with a stars and stripes-themed silk scarf.

"She's more well-rounded. She's been a tax lawyer. She knows more about the world," Mary Anne adds.

"No, I'd vote for Palin," says Judy.

"They [the Democrats] will throw everything at whoever runs, and she's the only one who can come through it. They've already done it to her. I like what she says and what she believes in", Judy adds.

The two women will not have an opportunity to make a direct comparison.

Sarah Palin is not speaking. But along with Ms Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman are also said to be attending the event.

The conference will surely prove to be a big test for Mr Huntsman, who will announce his candidacy for president next week. Mr Huntsman, who worked for Mr Obama as ambassador to China and has a reputation for being a centrist, has to prove he can thrive before a conservative audience.

Mary Anne and Judy don't think we've seen the full field yet.

"They'll draft someone in at the last moment," Mary Anne says.

The women are not the only ones eagerly awaiting the speech of their governor, Rick Perry.

Mr Perry earned himself a reputation as a job creator at a time when the state of the economy is going to dominate the election. He is clearly pondering a run and some think he is the answer to a field that doesn't quite inspire.

By the end of the conference, we will see who is emerging as the darling of the Tea Party right.

We may also see if Mr Huntsman can hack it and perhaps whether Mr Perry is the man to watch.