WEB EXTRA: College Republicans listen to GOP presidential candidates at annual conference

Members of the College Republicans joined students and conservative supporters this weekend to listen to Republican hopefuls for the 2008 U.S. Presidential race.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giulliani, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), pundit Anne Coulter, former Rep. Tom DeLay and Vice President Dick Cheney all made speeches at the event.

“This is really a who’s who of the Republican party,” said College Republican’s Chairman Gary Livacari, a senior.

A majority of attendees at the conference were college and high school students from around the country. Dustin Pittman traveled from East Carolina University to come to the event.

“This is the biggest gathering of conservative minds in the country, I wouldn’t miss it,” he said. “One of the best parts is the networking with other (College Republicans) over the years I’ve come and made new friends and had opportunities to discuss how our organizations are run.”

Bill Lauderback, executive vice president for the American Conservative Union, which sponsors CPAC, said the organizations focuses on youth support.

“Students are the most important part of the conservative movement,” Lauderback said. “In the 1980s Ronald Reagan made CPAC commit to having college students as the primary focus, because he knew that without young people the conservative movement would quickly die.”

Event organizers said about 2,000 attendees attended the various speeches, workshops and meetings from Thursday through Saturday at the Omni Sheraton Hotel in D.C.

Throughout the conference small sings of division within the party could be seen. One major presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), was absent from the festivities While roaring standing ovations and cheers marked most of the speeches by possible presidential candidates including Gingrich, Giulliani, Romeny and Brownback, Lauderback said McCain’s absence was not overlooked.

“The highlight of the event is the appearance of so many presidential candidates with the striking absence of John McCain,” Lauderback said.

On the third day each time McCain’s name was uttered a “Boo” swept across the crowd.

Livacari said some Republican’s are not embracing the conservative values that the party should be focusing on.

“People are confusing being a Republican and being a conservative,” he said. “I’m a Republican because of my conservative values, but being a Republican has to mean something.”

A highlight of the event was a straw poll conducted in which participants voted on their top choice for possible presidential candidates, Romney came out on top behind Giulliani in the unofficial tally of young conservatives.

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