Patrick Henry College freshman Sarah Ellison was looking forward to hearing GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference last Friday morning in Washington. But first she crowded into a small room, packed shoulder to shoulder with people waiting to hear from former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum at a briefing.
After 30 minutes the crowd, too large for the conference room, was ushered into the foyer. Looking around her, Ellison noticed that each candidate's supporters seemed to have a distinctive style.
"Mitt Romney people looked sleek and sophisticated, very corporate," she said. "Rick Santorum supporters looked like average, everyday Americans. Ron Paul supporters looked young and hipster. Newt Gingrich was everyone else."
Fans of the different Republican candidates were out in full force at CPAC last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Santorum, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich were all in attendance. Congressman Ron Paul was absent.
CPAC is one the largest political conferences of the year, drawing around 10,000 attendees this year. The conference comes at a pivotal time during the Republican presidential race as each candidate jockeys for the nomination. Mitt Romney won the annual straw poll with 38 percent of the vote, and Santorum followed with 31 percent. Gingrich came in with 15 percent, and Paul came in last with 12 percent.
According to the New York Times, half of the 10,000 people who voted in the straw poll or attended the conference were college students, and their opinions were as diverse as their wardrobes.
Jennifer Palmer, 20, and a student at Salem College in North Carolina said that she is undecided about the Republican candidates. "As of right now, there's no one I'd vote for," she said. Palmer did like Santorum's speech at CPAC, however. "I liked what he had to say about healthcare," she said.
Daniel Horowitz, 18, and a student at Binghamton University in New York said that he is definitely not a Romney guy. "When everyone was throwing up the flags and getting behind Romney, I was never with that," he said. "If I had to vote today, I'd vote for Santorum."
Howard Liu, another Binghamton University student said that he'd vote for Gingrich or Santorum. "Whoever's left standing as the anti-Romney candidate," he said. "Look at his record; we can't just have someone speak conservative views." Liu said he liked Gingrich because he had bold ideas and was a good debater. "We need a clear contrast between Obama and conservatives," he continued.
A spokesman from the College Republican National Committee said that Republicans need to utilize the same strategy as Obama did in 2008 when targeting young people. "Obama spends one day on college campuses every week," the spokesman said. "However, Ron Paul does extremely well among young people. Young people tend to lean toward the leading candidate-Romney."
Julie Collier, 22 and a student at the University of Minnesota, said she is also leaning towards Romney. "I like Romney's business experience," she said. "He's a great speaker and eloquent like Obama."
Jackie Anderson, the Communications Director for the Students for Life Organization said that right now candidates are focusing on beating President Barack Obama. "Anyone knows who the candidate could be," Anderson said. "It depends on how you look at it. Everyone has a different perspective."
Ellison knew from what perspective she would be voting. As a resident of Virginia, she will be voting for Romney in the upcoming primary. "I went in convinced Santorum was going to win the straw poll," she said. "After his speech on Friday, I changed my mind. [Romney] was going to win the straw poll."