Rand Paul has finished his speech to CPAC and is avoiding the crowds for a couple of minutes. Outside of a small media suite, where he's taking questions, there are foreign TV cameras, college kids wearing stickers from Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty, and men holding folders of glossy photos that they want signed. They are kept at bay by security officers who, they will learn, are guarding Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
Paul tells reporters what he thinks about House Republicans proposing deeper budget cuts than they were proposing a week ago.
"Good!" he says. "Maybe I'm having some impact up here!"
CNN asks Paul what he thought when Donald Trump, who had made a surprise appearance at the conference, said his father Ron Paul couldn't win the presidency.
"I think his chances are less than my father's," he says.
He slips out of the room, heads to a car, and answers a question about his proposal to cut basically all foreign aid. Does the turmoil in Egypt suggest that foreign aid doesn't work?
"I read an article in the Wall Street Journal," says Paul, "which I thought was pretty good, about how we turn on a dime from being best friends with people to saying they're autocrats who're not allowing freedom of speech. That may well be true, but it seemed like a little bit of a contradiction. We're all for Mubarak, and a day later we're not."
He is close to the car now, finishing the thought, and he's interrupted.
"Senator Paul, can you sign my baseball?"
"I can't right now," says Paul.
"But I've been waiting here!"
"He doesn't play baseball," says Paul's press secretary. "Why would he sign a baseball?"
"It's what I collect," says the fan. He says his name is Adam. Paul signs his baseball.
Four years ago, Rand Paul was helping out his father on a presidential campaign that was not taken very seriously. This was fair, in horse-race terms. Ron Paul seemed like the sort of candidate who runs, makes a statement, introduces an issue, and fades away. The issues were abolishing the Federal Reserve, ending both wars in Central Asia, abolishing the entitlement state, and ending the war on drugs. No Republican candidate adopted any of these issues. Paul's supporters, younger and rowdier and more akin to quoting Murray Rothbard than other Republicans, were grudgingly accepted.
Fast forward to CPAC 2011. The economic portions of Ron Paul's agenda are no longer controversial. Rand Paul is a U.S. senator who can command media attention and confused sports fans.
"It's not just that Rand is a senator," says William Thompson, a Georgia activist attending with Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty—the group he set up after shutting down his 2008 presidential bid. "He's one of the senators everyone knows. If you ask somebody who doesn't follow politics to name a politician, they might name him."