What many people who follow politics but do not attend such gatherings wanted to know — according to email, Twitter and Facebook exchanges — was who among the possible candidates got the warmest reception.
Most attendees interviewed thought that prize went to either Mr. Rubio, who is of Hispanic descent, or Mr. Paul, who is not. On being pressed for reasons, however, respondents often switched choices or came up with other names — most often Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, followed by Sarah Palin and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Mrs. Palin, who has revealed little inclination to seek the party nomination, nonetheless won the warmest nod for a speech that most moved the audience at the close of the conference.
“I’m speaking on behalf of you who love this country and value life and our kids, some who will perhaps face more challenges than the rest,” said the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, who knew before giving birth that her child Trig would be afflicted with Down syndrome.
“We understand the dignity of human life,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “We understand there are God’s standards of perfection that really count. Then the world’s standards of perfection that are superficial and often materialistic and don’t matter.”
She added: “You all know what really matters.”
Though moved, Amy Jones, a Dexter, Mich., senior at Hillsdale College, thought the “warmest reception went to Marco Rubio on Thursday, and the biggest buzz afterward was for him.”
She named 2012 Republican contender Herman Cain as the “most energetic speaker” — though there is no indication he plans another national run.
Some judged Mr. Perry, whose 2012 candidacy flopped early — after back surgery — to have turned in the surprise performance. The buzz in his case was that Mr. Perry was, as Susan A. Carleson put it, “what people expected last time and didn’t get.”
“He was very funny yet substantive, as if he had been unleashed,” said Mrs. Carleson, chairwoman of the American Civil Rights Union. “He came across as very Christian, down to earth, very human.”
Miss Jones later said what she “really appreciated was Rand Paul’s tackling the issue of religious freedom.”
“Doing that at a conference like this is good. We truly have to get back to the idea of freedom of religion,” she said.
Miss Jones seconded a lot of other attendees in singling out Mr. Johnson.
“In all honesty, Ron Johnson’s speech was the great one,” she said. “What stuck out in my mind was his saying we need to take our government back to what’s important to the family in American life.”
Mr. Johnson is among the least-known members of the U.S. Senate. Mr. Paul is one of the best-known. There is no established correlation between speech performance and ultimate nomination victory — in either party.