Students across the country traveled long distances and often paid out of pocket expenses to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington this weekend.
“It’s great to come here and see that we are not alone,” said Jerad McHenry, a University of Wisconsin student, who paid out of pocket for his hotel room for three nights. “When we all get together like this, there is strength in numbers.”
Registration at CPAC increased 20 percent over last year and nearly half of the 10,000 attendees were students ages 17 to 22, according to event officials.
Jozef Nagy and his wife, originally from Czechoslovakia, paid their way to make the nine-hour drive from the University of Massachusetts-Boston to attend the event.
“It was a nice drive down some stinky New Jersey turnpikes,” said Nagy, a graduate student studying computer science. “Coming from a communist country, it’s a big deal for us to be here every year, because we don’t want to see that happen in this country.
Katie Duckworth, a student at Temple University in Philadelphia, skipped classes and carpooled two and a half hours from her campus.
“We did this all on our own,” Duckworth said. “All the university did was give us a permission slip saying that we could go.”
Groups such as College Republicans often play a role in sponsoring students’ trips to the conference. McHenry’s flight from Madison, Wisc., was provided by the campus College Republican group.
Nick Hankoff’s flight from California was sponsored by Young Americans for Liberty and Campaign for Liberty, two libertarian campus groups. The two combined to bring 650 students and 50 volunteers to CPAC.
“As a libertarian, it’s fun to be here, because I’m more conservative than the right-wing guy and more liberal than the left-wing guy,” Hankoff said.
Event organizers added XPAC, “Xtremely Political Action Committee,” to the annual conference in an effort to reach out to the younger crowd. XPAC provided a social and entertainment lounge for attendees to relax, enjoy food and watch comedians and musicians.
“It doesn’t surprise me to see so many students here, because grassroots movements are almost always driven by students,” said Jacob Nieuwsma, a trustee with the College Republicans of Hillsdale College in Michigan.
Not all attendees were students, though. Bill McGuire, a retired contractor with the State Department who lives in the Washington, DC, area, attended the event on his own time.
“It’s great to see young people involved,” McGuire said, standing in line waiting to hear Glenn Beck deliver the final speech of the conference. “Living in this city, you begin to think that everyone in the country is a left-wing voter, but that’s really not an indication of the country.”