While Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was awarded the opening speaking slot at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, the man he wants to replace as governor was noticeably snubbed.

Gov. Bob McDonnell was not invited to this weekend's confab. Neither was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who with Cuccinelli is one of only two Republicans running for governor this year.

Both McDonnell and Christie have addressed the conference before and both are in the mix for the 2016 presidential race. But for the most part, their presence was not missed at this year's gathering at the National Harbor.

"I don't think they're contributing to modern conservatism," said Lisa Luisi, a San Francisco resident attending CPAC. "They're part of it but not necessarily driving the ship."

Among Thursday's attendees, the outspoken Christie was a far more polarizing figure than McDonnell, who flies under the radar sometimes even in his own state. Christie's biggest crime, hugging President Obama during a presidential visit to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the state, was fresh in many minds.

"I would have liked to have seen him, but he's got a lot on his hands with Sandy," said New Jersey resident Eva Mazzela.

"And campaigning for Obama," chimed in her friend, Lori Lockwood, also from the Garden State.

McDonnell's embrace of a tax hike to pay for badly needed transportation projects throughout Virginia put him on notice that conservatives were paying attention to how the 2016 field is shaking out. He's the first potential presidential candidate to have ads running against him in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, ads that cited his broken promise not to raise taxes.

Maryland resident Sheldon Sacks isn't as hard on McDonnell as he is on Christie. Watching Virginia from across the Potomac, Sacks said he believes McDonnell "has done a good job as governor and tried to cut spending and taxes first."

"I don't fault him that much," Sacks said.

McDonnell will speak at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Prayer Breakfast on Friday. But inside CPAC, it's out with the old, and in with the new, and Cuccinelli represents the direction conservatives want to head.

"I love Gov. McDonnell but I don't think he's made a big impact on the conservative movement," said Samantha Rozzell, a Virginia Beach native sporting a Cuccinelli sticker. "He's on his way out. He hasn't really said if he'll do anything after he's done. They just want to show Cuccinelli is the new face."