“We’re here because we care about the direction this country is going in,” Ragone,a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology,said. He and his friends made the trip to the Conservative Political Action Conference in part because they want to hear leaders of their party,past,present and future,speak to them in an “unvarnished way.”
Krista Gibbons and Lance Baresic,both 23,wanted to see current party leaders and the future Republican presidential nominee in person.
“Here it’s more traditional,it’s not filtered through the TV or like when you surf the Web,” Baresic,a student at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,said.
But the opinions of their own generation may matter as much,if not more,to young conservatives like Gibbons.
“Here,we can really meet and network with people our own age and hear their opinions about what our generation can do going forward,” Gibbons said.
It is that sense of community that some young conservatives have pointed to as being the driving factor behind their attendance at CPAC 2012.
Melissa Mooney,a student at Towson University near Baltimore,said that being around fellow conservatives was “refreshing.”
“As a conservative,on our campus,you’re really the odd man out,” Mooney said. “The most people I’ve seen at our College Republican meetings was 30 to 40 at most. On a campus of 22,000.”
She said the mood is so anti-conservative that College Republicans have been threatened,had their meetings disrupted and had items thrown at them.
At a panel discussion called,“Advancing Conservative on Your Campus,” Mooney said she envied those from more conservative environments,such as Idaho and Iowa.
But that sense of community didn’t necessarily extend to talking about the social scene. Not social issues such as culture wars,abortion or gay rights,but dating. A much publicized “Conservative Dating” discussion drew more reporters than conservatives seeking love.
The speaker advised honesty about political beliefs and said it is important for singles to know what they are looking for and to relax a little to counteract the impression that conservatives are “uptight.”
Conservatives were not uptight toward groups with opposing views.
“I think a lot of Americans are waking up to the corruption in Washington and elsewhere,” Ragone said.
Asked about the Occupy movement,Ragone said even when they might agree,they differ on methods to reach their goals. Youth unemployment is a mutual concern.
“They’re like,‘I have this problem,solve it for me,give me a job,’ where we think that you have to earn your solutions,” Ragone said.
Gibbons agreed: “Yeah,it’s much harder to get a job now,but we’re still looking for jobs,not standing in a park and complaining.”
A half-dozen protesters stood outside the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel for a short time holding signs criticizing Sen. Marco Rubio,R-Fla.,a featured speaker,for his opposition to the DREAM Act. Rubio,whose parents immigrated from Cuba,opposes the DREAM Act,but has said that the U.S. immigration system is broken.
Even events such as “Advancing Conservatism on Your Campus” could not avoid the unease felt by millennials about their job prospects. Speakers said working to advance their principles could lead students to job opportunities.
Peter Redpath,vice president and director of the student division for the Federalist Society,said campus speakers often have links to organizations with internships or jobs.
Paul Conway,president of Generation Opportunity,said unemployment could reduce or reverse the 66 percent of votes President Barack Obama drew in 2008 from people under age 29.
Generation Opportunity recently released a poll showing that 77 percent of millennials will delay “major life changes due to economic restraints.” The poll says that 31 percent of people 18 to 29 approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of youth unemployment.
“The youth unemployment issue is like a big scythe that’s cut across an entire generation,” Conway said. “And this is a generation that consumes news and information 24 hours a day. And if the information that they’re consuming is that they don’t have a job,their friends don’t have a job,then they’re not going to be awed by anybody’s sound bites.”
Conway said the presidential candidates have not shown they understand the problem.
“This generation is smart. They’ve fought two wars,they’ve gone through a massive economic downturn and they understand that policy decisions impact their job prospects,” Conway said.
Conway pointed to the decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline,delayed by protests.
“If you’re graduating with an engineering degree and the government says no to the Keystone Pipeline,this generation will process that that’s not good for them,” Conway said.
(This story has been updated to correct the name of Generation Opportunity’s president,Paul Conway and student Lance Baresic.)
Reach reporter Frank Bumb at [email protected] or 202-326-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.
Jessica Sabbah also contributed to this story.