National Harbor, Maryland (CNN) – Potential Republican presidential candidates take the stage, hoping to generate a buzz. But the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, has a lot more happening outside the massive, big-screened adorned ballroom where conservatives take the stage.
It's a conference where thousands of young Republicans from colleges across the country come to network and possibly meet Mr. or Ms. Right. It's a marketing bonanza for authors and organizations. It's a place to wear your favorite American flag underwear. This is CPAC - CPAC beyond the headline-making political speeches.
At the Gaylord Hotel on the banks of the Potomac - which bills itself as being in Washington but is actually about 10 miles south - the excitement on this Thursday morning is palpable as the line to register or check in winds around several corners. Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential candidate is one of the first to speak and conference-goers are anxious to get in before he starts.
Meanwhile, 20-year-old University of Arizona student Stephanie Salazar is "totally starstruck." She saw Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. This Texas native was so excited she pulled out her phone and took pictures. But, it was Salazar's lucky day. Cruz came over to shake her hand. "Oh my God.
Ted Cruz is supposedly in the middle of that mob:
So then she got her picture taken with him! The first person she's going to call and tell is her dad. Cruz definitely made this first-time CPACer's day.
This is CPAC. Where young conservatives get to meet the people they admire.
So I got to talking to Salazar and her two friends, Michael Price and Caleb Rhodes, also students at U of A, who all praised Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer for vetoing SB 1062, the "religious freedom" bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay people.
"We as [the college Republican] club protested the bill because we didn't support it," Rhodes said.
"A lot of younger individuals are ready to to get back to the idea of individual freedoms," Salazar added as her two friends nodded in agreement.
This is CPAC. Where the younger generation of conservatives invoke their ideas.
CPAC is also home to a wide swath of conservatives, including the Tradition, Family and Property organization, which was part of the movement to ensure GOProud, a Republican gay organization, is not a co-sponsor of CPAC.
A little background: GOProud was a co-sponsor in 2011 but instead of boycotting like some social conservative organizations, TFP attended CPAC and handed out more than 4,000 flyers opposing GOProud's participation. They lobbied the leadership of the American Conservative Union, the organization that sponsors CPAC, to not allow them back. It worked.
And they are still at it, making sure GOProud continues to be excluded by hounding these flyers:
But young people are numerous at CPAC. And many don't agree with TFP.
Two college freshmen from Wellesley College said the Republican Party needs to focus on fiscal issues and get out of the bedroom.
But waaaay more interesting is that these two young conservatives go to Wellsley! Yes, that's the small liberal arts school in Massachusetts that is also Hillary Clinton's alma mater. And they chose to go there.
Anna Page, left, and Liza Arias admit they are a minority on campus and only have about 20 active members in their College Republicans chapter. But, they say, they're proud of their conservatism, have had to study harder to make sure they aren't out-debated by their liberal classmates and have become more conservative since they went off to college six months ago.
As for being at CPAC, "It's great to be around like-minded people." A new experience for them.
CPAC is also about American flag clothing.
There's not really much to say about that. The picture speaks for itself.
CPAC is also about future politicians - including the possible future mayor of North Myrtle Beach.
Once Christian Hamilton is done at Liberty University, the conservative school in central Virginia founded by Moral Majority founder Jerry Fallwell, he's going to grad school then moving home to run for MAYOR.
This North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, native says his young age won't be a factor because he "knows people." He promises to increase paltry voter turnout to pull out a "W" and bring more growth to the Grand Strand.
As for CPAC, Hamilton loves it. He's been for three years and says he goes to sleep late and gets up early.
"It's Las Vegas" for young conservatives, Hamilton said.
Let's face it, people like a good party. Hundreds of young people with similar beliefs in the same place. Good times.
Then there's David Silverman. He's standing right outside the doors to get into the main speakers' room wearing an atheists t-shirt.
He requested to host a booth, which was approved. But after CNN published an article with Silberman saying he wants to split conservatives from Christianity, his booth was revoked.
And he's actually having a good time.
"I expected to be surrounded by very angry stereotypes but that's not the case. This is an open forum. This is an open crowd," Silverman said.
Oh, and there's the "Star Wars" characters. Chewbacca! Storm Troopers!
Darth Vader and crew are at CPAC to help author Travis H. Brown sell his book about income tax. "Star Wars" and income taxes. Got it.
There's also swag - tea party board games, pens, Stand with Rand t-shirts – and candy and free coffee and tea!
Who said only liberals like organic?
-–I don't care what these few of these guys say, GOP is pretty much dead, defunct. Sure. No rationale backs up these Stone Age thinking idiots. Period.
this where all the rich kids from ivy league schools goes to mingle. i wonder if they're going to be fighting over whose parents have the most billions. i wonder how much of them is vying to get in their daddy's corporation so they dont get left behind when daddy takes his business abroad seeking more money, after daddy sees that the repubs have cut all the money from our economy. i wonder how much average young folks who's parents have to get by with working for minimum wage is at that conference, i wonder how much kids that parents just got put off of unemployment benefits that these repubs refuse to reinstate. i wonder how many kids there, that parents doesn't have health insurance and is nearing financial disaster, i wonder how many kids their that are on their parents insurance policy because of obamacare, which they are fighting against. this country is not not only for the elite and their kids, but its for everyone that was born hear, and yes we too have a voice.
I'm curious what "pretty much dead" means. Is that like 50% dead? Or 75% dead? Or are they at 90% Enlighten me. I'm confused.
Who cares. They are a dying breed and, truth be told,some people need to be spayed and neutered.
@ Dominican mama & Wake Up
I've tried to respond to your comments (both today and yesterday) but am not having much luck and my comments are coming across not as I would like. Thanks to both of you for your earlier comments.
" But, they say, they're proud of their conservatism, have had to study harder to make sure they aren't out-debated by their liberal classmates..."
You can study all you want but unless the Liberals just send forth terrible debaters, you will never win. Facts are facts, history is history, and reality is reality.... America has progressed because of progressives. If conservatives had it their way, we'd all be living on some 'Lord's' land paying rent to slave for him daily and groveling at his feet for the chance at a few measley crumbs his maid swept off his floor.
That is the conservative fantasy... that the peons (or serfs, as you wish) cater to their every need for a pittance (no need for a minimum wage) and grovel at their feet fawning about their greatness....
There are "young" conservatives? How old are they? 45?
When will CPAC be over? We would like the Gubner of New Mexico to come back and do her job.
The term 'young conservatives' breaks my heart. so sad to see young people so brainwashed by the dark side. fortunately, most young people know better than to buy into this snake oil concoction of ignorance, greed, hate, and fear. the good news is, if it's caught early, republicanism is curable. the victim just needs to start thinking for him/herself and they recover.
Really appreciate the pic of the young men wearing the American Flag as shorts. Men and women died to create, and sustain that flag ever since the Mayflower landed. Now it is merely something to plant your overfed, broad, butt on. Classy.
So not wearing a flag pin means you hate amurika but wearing our flag as underwear proves you're a patriot?
These people are just plain sick in the head.
Young conservative ???
The Tea Party and other extremists are destroying the GOP, and
permanently stripping it of any credibility in the minds of thinking
people. In 10 years time, provided they don't get us all killed, we'll
be wondering how anyone could ever buy such a bill of spoiled goods.
“Gone are the days when the Republican Party used to put forward big bold visionary stuff…We’re gonna have problems politically until we get some sort of third party movement or some alternate voice out there that can put forward new ideas.”
Oxymoron: Young and conservative. If this were true there'd be more of them, and the republican ranks wouldn't look like a jumbo pack of Q-Tip's with bulges around the midpoint of the stem.
HILARIOUS watching Guns Over People tea potty wingnuts walk the plank toward another November. They are desperate in March.
I have to rename CPAC from conservative political action conference to communist political action conference putin is their sugar daddy they heap praise on a communist over a sitting US president.