- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2011

They’re almost always a minority on campus, but hundreds of student conservatives were among friends and ideological allies as they gathered in Washington to talk politics, policy and their plans for the 2012 election at the Young America’s Foundation’s National Conservative Student Conference this week.

“Within ourselves there are different forms of conservatism, but it’s great to see everyone coming together and giving their opinions,” said Elissa Roberson, a 19-year-old history student at the College of the Desert in California.

The weeklong conference featured speakers ranging from Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, to political commentator Ann Coulter. The conference was part of the foundation’s Reagan 100 celebration, a yearlong commemoration of Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday.

Keynote speaker Sen. Marco Rubio, the freshman Florida Republican and a rising star in the party, spoke on the importance of conservative students remaining politically active even though they may not be in the majority.

“I encourage you to remain politically involved because the decisions we are making will be permanent,” Mr. Rubio said.

Following his remarks, a few conference attendees said they considering forming a Students for Rubio organization.

“I thought [the speech] was very good, and it was very inspiring to see such a young senator. He knew who his audience was, and he was very articulate and well put together,” said Ross Berry, 21, an economics major at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.

The conference came during the endgame of the fiercely partisan battle over raising the federal debt ceiling on Capitol Hill. Freshman Rep. Allen B. West, Florida Republican, told the young conservatives he had received flak from tea-party activists for supporting the final compromise, but defended his vote.

“When Michelangelo was given a big piece of rock, the next day he did not have the ‘David.’ You’ve got to chip away at this thing,” Mr. West said.

He received multiple standing ovations throughout his speech - particularly when he mentioned the GOP push for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

John Cassil, a 20- year-old business student at Clemson University, said Mr. West’s vote for the debt-ceiling increase could help the larger conservative cause of reining in government spending in the end.

“If it brings about what he hopes and helps with the balanced-budget amendment, I don’t blame him for it,” Mr. Cassil said

As the 2012 GOP presidential nomination battle heats up, many students seemed lukewarm about the current crop of candidates.

“At this stage in the game, I guess I’m sort of leaning toward [former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt] Romney. But if someone else comes in, I don’t know. I’d actually love to see Jim DeMint run,” Mr. Cassil said.

The only suggestions that garnered cheers from the majority of participants came from Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Mr. Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has said he is not seeking a nomination, while Mr. Perry is considering a late entry into the race.

Miss Roberson said she “definitely” got what she had come for out of the conference.

“I’m trying to start a College Republicans or YAF chapter at my school, and I wanted to hear what others were doing in their clubs and hear what the speakers are trying to do for America in general,” Miss Roberson said. “And I think from all of this, I’ve acquired the tools to help educate my generation.”

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