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WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's leading Republicans are courting conservative activists gathered in suburban Washington this week, highlighting the tug of war for the GOP's soul.

Thursday marks the first day of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where prospective presidential candidates join national conservative opinion leaders and tea party activists.

Conservative firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin headline a crowded speaking program Thursday that also features National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie makes his first public address in Washington since a political retribution scandal erupted in January.

Republicans are far from united as they look to the November midterm elections and beyond. The conference is expected to showcase divisions on foreign policy, political strategy and social issues.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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