WASHINGTON -- Ron Paul typically generates one of the largest followings at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but the Republican presidential candidate decided to eschew the event in favor of campaigning in Maine.
The usually bustling amount of Paul fanatics was gone -- in the past he heavily subsidized fees for students to attend CPAC -- but his presence wasn't lost. In his place was his son Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who did his best to motivate the thousands of people in attendance at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel.
The senator, best known for a recent run-in with TSA, drew acclaim for attacking President Barack Obama about his policies for rich people.
The president doesn't really hate all rich people, just those who don't contribute to his campaign, Paul said.
The younger Paul avoided defying Republican convention like his father oft-does, but did note that the Republican Party is an empty vessel unless we imbue it with values.
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We have to believe in something, he said. It will take someone who's able to transform the boldest of austerity into the warm, vibrant embrace of prosperity. We're in the process of discovering who that leader will be. My hope is that in the search for that leader, we also will rediscover the passion for individual liberty that made America great.
Patrick Bailey, a 26-year-old conservative activist, believes that leader is Ron Paul.
You have all these speakers on staying saying we need a revolution and it's right under their nose, Bailey said referring to Paul. He would win all the Independent voters.
Bailey was working on Wall Street in finance when he decided to give up a life of luxury for a chance to get more involved at the ground level of conservative grassroots. He said he realized he could have contributed more financially through that lifestyle, but that wasn't going to be enough.
He has fully embraced Paul's candidacy for White House -- warts and all. The elder Paul has been criticized in the past for racist and anti-Semitic material in his newsletters; foreign policy issues; and his strong Libertarian fiscal policies.
Christopher Ring, a 20-year-old student at George Washington University, feels that nominating Paul would be a massive disaster.
Ron Paul would be a 49-state landslide, he said. He's a babbling old man.
But Bailey believes that the attacks come because of the fear that he'll shake up the status quo more than any other candidate.
Charlie Vidal, a 22-year-old student at the University of Chicago, agreed with Bailey that Paul could shake up the establishment while still bringing in those on the fence in the upcoming elections.
He'd bring out the moderates, the progressives, he said. Everyone whose first issue is war would vote for Paul.
Paul is still a long shot compared to Mitt Romney, who while recently struggling still has the most impressive war chest and network of volunteers around the country.
If Ron Paul doesn't win the nomination, as expected, that doesn't mean that CPAC will be without the Paul name anytime soon. With speeches like the one he gave at the conference on Thursday, Rand Paul figures to be a major presence in the conservative base in the years going forward.
He might even be the perfect candidate to run in 2016 if Obama is re-elected.
He's the most effective advocate for liberty, Vidal, a student at the University of Chicago, said. He's also a much better speaker than his father.