This year's CPAC occupies a few large corners of the Gaylord resort at National Harbor. Arriving reporters and activists enter through a lobby, take an esclator, and find themselves at a sort of plaza in front of "radio row," registration, and exhibits. This is the area that smart activists occupy to share their kitsch and handbills and advertisements for happy hours. Exhibit A: The Young Americans for Liberty and their Stand With Rand campaign.
Hundreds of red T-shirts with the slogan and a silhouette of the senator and his curly hair are splayed out for passersby, and picked up fast. Interested parties are offered a clipboard, where they can "stand with Rand." I demurred, because I didn't want to sign on to a campaign. "It's not for a campaign," I was told.
Down a nearby escalator, two flights, is the main exhibit hall. This is the place where reporters grab the CPAC classic pix: the anti-gay marriage campaigners who wear red sashes, the NRA booth with a giant screen for playing Buck Hunter, and the bumper stickers.
There are campaign booths both serious:
... and less serious.
Outside, on touchscreens, attendees (not reporters!) can vote in the legendary presidential straw poll—a self-selected sample of people who can afford to travel to a conservative conference.
The era when campaigns spent real money to bring in students and win this poll is largely over. Jeb Bush has asked to be taken off the ballot: Dr. Ben Carson, the black conservative surgeon who's become an instant star since browbeating the president at the National Prayer Breakfast, is on it.