If the musical accompaniment for kenynote speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference reflects the will of conference-goers, then Sen. Rand Paul is the real deal while Sen. Marco Rubio is just a pretty boy.
Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, walked out on stage to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" but for Rubio, a Florida Republican, it was One Direction's "Beautiful."
Both men elicited applause at the conservative conference, by far the top draws of the day's events. Rubio, who spoke first, walked familiar ground by extolling the virtues of America's economic mobility and making the case for Republicans as the party that champions the middle class.
"Who's fighting for the hardworking, everyday people of this country, who do things right, who do not complain, that have built this nation and make it exceptional?" asked Rubio. "As conservative believers in limited government and free enterprise, that is both our challenge and our opportunity—to be their voice."
Seen as a rising star and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Rubio did not mention the issue he's most often associated with these days: immigration reform. His work with a bipartisan group of senators to craft a comprehensive proposal that likely will include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States—a loser with grassroots conservatives.
Rubio did highlight his cultural conservatism, reaffirming his pro-life stance and saying he was not a "bigot" for believing in states' right to decide marriage laws.
But his most effective lines came near the end as he spoke of American exceptionalism.
"America's never been our government; it's never been our politicians. America has always been our people," Rubio said. "With all the bad news out there you can still find the tremendous promise of tomorrow in the everyday stories of our people."
Evoking China as a global rival, Rubio said, "this is not just about national pride.
"We don't need a new idea; there is an idea, the idea is called America and it still works," he said.
Paul, another possible 2016 presidential candidate who is riding a wave of enthusiasm since his 13 hour filibuster against President Barack Obama's drone policy, continued to press the importance of restraining executive power.
"My question with the president was about more than just killing Americans on American soil, my question was about whether presidential power has limits," he said. "If we allow one man to charge Americans as enemy combatants and indefinitely detain or drone them, then what exactly is it that our brave young men and women are fighting for?"
Paul's libertarian line of questioning has attracted support from both sides of the aisle and builds on the legacy of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. He furthered his case for a new GOP and called the old Republican guard "stale and moss-covered."
"Ask the Facebook generation whether we should put a kid in jail for the non violent crime of drug use and you'll hear a resounding 'no,' " Paul said. "The new GOP will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and the personal sphere."
Conference-goers will weigh in Saturday with their choice of top pol, as the three-day event culminated with a straw poll. But regardless of the results, political observers will continue to have fun watching both Rubio and Paul march together to the top of their party.
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