I spent several hours yesterday afternoon outside the Egyptian Embassy as people were celebrating Mubarak's resignation and showing their support for the Egyptian people. Since the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was being held not to far away, I encountered a lot of CPAC attendees while on the Metro traveling in both directions. Although my observations of people on the Metro were clearly just a snapshot of what was happening at the event, I wanted to give my quick reaction to what I saw.
The biggest thing that I noticed was that the vast majority of people I saw wearing CPAC or GOP buttons were young people. On top of that, of the people wearing buttons supporting a particular candidate, the vast majority were Ron Paul supporters. I briefly spoke with one of the people wearing a Ron Paul button and he told me that the only way Rep. Paul wouldn't win the straw poll is if "Mitt Romney rigged it." Like last year, Paul did end up winning with 30% and Mitt Romney came in second with 23%.
I mention these observations together because there are a lot of Republican activists who have taken to twitter and the blogs to complain about how Ron Paul apparently paid for a lot of college students to attend the event. While it would arguably be a better judge of grassroots activity if all of the supporters were organized from the ground up and didn't receive anything from the campaigns, the plain and simple fact is that campaigns all levels frequently pay for their supporters to attend big events that have straw polls. Virginians might remember, for instance, that there were some complaints of certain gubernatorial candidates in 2009 doing this at a St. Patrick Day straw poll in Fairfax. In other words, campaigns know this common practice and shouldn't really complain about it. Furthermore, even if you are paying for people to show up at the event, you still have to get the people who are willing to give up their time to go to the event. Anyone who has done organizing knows that isn't necessarily an easy thing to do.
Another interesting aspect of the CPAC attendees on the Metro was the conversations that they were having. While they were all dressed up in nice suits or sweater vests, they definitely had some nasty things to say about Democrats. Several times I heard groups talking about how Obama and the Democrats were supposedly out to destroy the country because of his policies. And yes, I heard at least one person claim he was a Muslim and several people claim he was a socialist. I bring this up because it's a shame that people are actively promoting this type of thinking. It's one thing to disagree on the issues, but we can disagree without being disagreeable. The type of rhetoric used by these activists and members of the Republican leadership do nothing but spur the partisan divide in our country.
Finally, I was traveling into DC around noon and was coming back into Virginia around 5pm. During those times, I didn't hear any talk of Rep. Allen West (R-FL) or see anyone sporting Allen West swag. Nonetheless, he has definitely become the talk of online activists who were at the event. Part of that attention is very likely coming from the fact that he was the final keynote speaker of the conference and made a visit to the blogger room before his speech, it's very interesting to note that he received what's called "a rousing ovation" and is being described as one that's a lot better than what would have been given by the straw poll winner. There is some online chatter about an Allen West for President campaign down the road, but it'll be interesting to see if his reception at CPAC and an open field on the GOP side could potentially lead to him entering the race for the 2012 Republican nomination.