CPAC 2013: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul get a boost as conservatives endorse new generation

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“I think Sen. Paul — I think it was a little bit more of a confrontational speech in terms of challenge the Republican Party,” said Christian Callahan, 54, from Chester County, Pa. “I thought Sen. Rubio’s speech was a little more trying to get us to be more inclusive and to pull us all together, whereas Sen. Paul was more of a challenge and to maybe, as he said, the old guard GOP’s grown some moss, so that was a not-so-veiled poke at Sen. [John] McCain.”

Both senators, elected in the tea party wave of 2010, have seen their political stock rise since the 2012 election, where presidential nominee Mitt Romney struggled to unify his party and seemed befuddled by the fight with Mr. Obama.

Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, one of the movement’s senior voices, delivered her blunt assessment over the weekend, telling the thousands that turned out for the three-day event in Prince George’s County — billed as “America’s Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives — New Challenges, Timeless Principles” — that the party establishment has made a habit of picking losers in presidential races.

“The fight we have, and the fight I want you to engage in, is the establishment against the grass roots,” she said. “The establishment has given us a whole series of losers. Bob Dole and John McCain. Mitt Romney.”

Hours later, Mr. Paul won the 2013 Washington Times-CPAC presidential preference straw poll, with Mr. Rubio finishing a close second — a result that spoke to their mounting popularity among grass-roots conservatives.

“In terms of their style, their approach to the American situations that might come up while they are president, I think Rubio is lovely and would had a good approach, but I think I would prefer a thoughtful, well-considered Rand Paul,” said Holly Prehn, a Maryland resident in her 50s.

Richard Ferguson, 64, an assistant superintendent of schools in Alabama, said both men impressed him.

“I think the definition of what is conservative is really evolving right now, and I think those are the two people who are going to help define that more than the others,” he said.

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