Despite differing views, Rubio, Paul energize conservative confab

By |
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Two young, rising stars of the Republican Party presented distinct and at times competing visions for the future of the GOP at Thursday's opening of the Conservative Political Action Conference, where crowds were eager for fresh faces after the failures of 2012.

While Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida offered to breathe new life into the Republican Party, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky called for an entirely "new GOP" that rejects the status quo and stale policies that have been a drag on Washington under Democrats and Republicans.

Rubio charmed the CPAC attendees by poking fun at his now-infamous grab for a water bottle during the GOP rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union address last month. Republicans, he said, don't need to change what they stand for.

"We don't need a new idea," Rubio said. "There is an idea. It's called America. And it still works."

But it was Paul, still riding high from his popular 12-hour filibuster on the Senate floor last week, who ripped the current Republican Party as "stale and moss-covered." The Senate's newest maverick announced he would release his own plan to balance the budget in five years by creating a 17.5 percent flat income tax and reigning in government spending.

"If we're going to have a Republican Party that can win, liberty needs to be the backbone of the GOP," Paul said. "We must have a message that is broad, our vision must be broad, and that vision must be based on freedom."

The back-to-back speeches from two potential rivals in the 2016 presidential election gave hope to a CPAC audience looking to anoint new leadership ahead of the 2014 congressional elections and the presidential race.

Rubio and Paul were elected on the same conservative wave in 2010 and have seen their stars rise within a party searching for a winning formula. Last month, while Rubio delivered the GOP rebuttal to Obama's speech, Paul immediately followed him, offering a Tea Party response.

Despite their divergent visions for the party, Rubio and Paul are viewed by conservatives at the convention as being on similar trajectories.

"After Rubio's speech, I thought, 'I can see myself getting involved in his campaign,' " said Florida resident Ken Deane of Florida. "And then Paul spoke and I felt the same thing. You really see the future of the Republican Party in these two."

Paul and Rubio are two of 23 names on CPAC's presidential straw poll, an unofficial test for Republican hopefuls. After day one, it's clear there are strong campaigns for each of them on the ground. "Stand with Rand" signs peppered the convention center, and Rubio stickers dotted sport coats and blouses.

Some attendees, like College of William & Mary senior David Branton, was wearing the badges of both.

"They've been associated together recently and juxtaposed off each other, but I think it shows that libertarian and conservative views coincide," Branton said.

Rubio and Paul's dueling appearances energized a crowd that had been subdued most of the day and gave hope to those looking for someone to reinvigorate the party.

"Coming from an old person," said Phyllis Porter, of Ohio, "I'm sick of the old people."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment