Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has won the 2013 CPAC presidential straw poll, settling questions whether the junior Senator's more mainstream libertarianism could draw the same enthusiasm as his now-retired father, perennial presidential hopeful Ron Paul.
Paul edged out Florida Senator Marco Rubio for the top spot, with 25% and 23% of the vote respectively, followed by former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and New Jersey governor Chris Christie at 8% and 7%.
The Paul victory comes on the heels of a 13-hour Senate filibuster protesting ambiguities in the White House's policy on domestic drone use. On the first day of CPAC, his supporters distributed signs and t-shirts with the slogan "Stand With Rand," a phrase which trended worldwide on Twitter as the filibuster proceeded.
Bonnie Kristian, the Director of Communications for Young Americans for Liberty, said the t-shirts were extremely popular with conference attendees. "We handed out a thousand in just a few hours—totally ran out," she said. "And the people we were handing them to were a full cross-section of CPAC attendees. It wasn't just isolated to the libertarians."
The YAL booth on the convention floor featured portraits of various conservative and libertarian icons through history, including Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, and this year Rand Paul's image stood central among those figures, his father's visage now moved to the periphery.
"Ron paved the way and he was very, very appealing to young people," Kristian explained. "Rand maintains that support of young people, but he also appeals to the more traditional conservatives."
Paul specifically appealed to American youth in his Thursday speech, addressing the current legislative discussion over decriminalizing marijuana: “Ask the Facebook generation whether we should put a kid in jail for the nonviolent crime of drug use and you’ll hear a resounding no.”
For some CPAC attendees who formerly supported Ron Paul, the difference between him and Rand is negligible, even though their peers are known for demanding ideological purity.
"[Ron Paul supporters] should support Rand, because he stands for the same ideas and is completely electable and he's making himself relevant, and the filibuster was a great example of that," said Noelle Mandell, a student handing out "Stand With Rand" posters.
Francis Raykovitz, another student helping Mandell, said Paul's filibuster was energizing for young people, particularly its dominance of social media. "Traditionally, when the Senate filibusters, they just ramble about a lot of stuff," he said. "But in this case, they were pulling tweets off the Internet from students that were following them. And that was most inspiring because it shows the broad youth support that these candidates have and they bring to the Republican Party."
A Ron Paul fan who currently prefers Judge Andrew Napolitano for a 2016 presidential ticket fears Rand may be less pure on foreign policy issues than his father.
"We don't want him to become a neocon," he said, worried that the Senator is "flirting" with positions he considers "interventionist." He advised Rand not to compromise his libertarian principles: "Don't whore yourself to the middle like Marco Rubio is doing right now."
The relationship between Paulites and more traditional conservatives has seen its share of conflict. In 2011, Ron Paul supporters heckled both Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld for their roles in the foreign policy decisions of former president George W. Bush. The same day, businessman Donald Trump flatly stated the senior Paul had no chance to win the presidency, prompting a wave of boos from the floor.
Ron Paul won the CPAC straw poll in 2010 and 2011 but came in third place in 2012, with Mitt Romney in the top spot.
CPAC 2013 STRAW POLL, FULL RESULTS
1. Rand Paul: 25%
2. Marco Rubio: 23%
3. Rick Santorum: 8%
4. Chris Christie: 7%
5. Paul Ryan: 6%
6. Scott Walker: 5%
7. Ben Carson: 4%
8. Ted Cruz: 4%
9. Bobby Jindal: 3%
10. Sarah Palin: 3%