Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) Thursday called the Republican Party "stale and moss covered," and some young people at a key annual conference couldn't help but agree.
Young Republicans swarmed the annual CPAC conference outnumbering their older counterparts. They are excited about their party, but concerned about its brand. Alex Bidner, 20, arrived at CPAC with Illinois Wesleyan College Republicans enthusiastic about Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and the chance to talk about reducing the deficit with like-minded peers. But Bidner says looking around at some of the exhibition booths on abortion and traditional families made her increasingly skeptical her party is changing as fast as it needs to keep up with the times.
"It is kind of intimidating," Bidner says. "I think we need to be going the opposite direction of what most people here are thinking."
Bidner, like many of her peers at CPAC, is concerned the GOP is still stuck on social issues, too outspoken against gay marriage and too skeptical of pragmatic party leaders like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey who walk a more independent line.
"We are going to look back and be like 'you guys were crazy,'" Bidner says.
Georgia Tech student Emily Jones, 19, became a Republican because she was passionately pro-life. But she agrees focusing campaigns squarely on social issues is the fastest way to divide the party.
"They call somebody a RINO," says Jones, referring to the slang term meaning Republican in name only, often used to describe moderates in a derogatory manner. "They call somebody a Tea Party patriot. I think we need to all become united and strongly [so] before 2014 for sure."
Jones says the GOP could also attract a lot more young people in a flailing economy if it updated its social media strategy and utilized a micro targeting campaign ground game.
"In a lot of ways we are a little closed minded and rest on our laurels," Jones says. "We want to behave the way past campaigns and past elections have. "
But there is one issue that motivates young people at CPAC.
College Republicans seem to be united in the belief that the Republican Party's strongest asset is focusing its message on cutting back the country's ballooning deficit. And they agree there are some young leaders in the Senate who have the chops to represent them.
"There are a lot of problems like the debt in the United States that if they aren't solved now, then [young people] will be affected by," says Scott Bowen, a student from Texas A & M University. "I think that it is important that we have leaders who stand for something and keep their promises, and I think that is something Rand Paul and Ted Cruz" the junior senator from Texas, have shown.
All over the exhibition hall, young "volunteers" adorned with "stand with Rand" T-shirts and Paul buttons and signs, were reaching out to their peers to talk about civil liberties and cutting the debt.
"We are attracted to the Constitutional principles," says Eric Armetta, a 23-year-old who is with Young Americans for Liberty. "Whether you are young or old, that resonates with people."
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