NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—A year after his 13-hour filibuster won the hearts of young conservatives just a week ahead of the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference, the fandom for Sen. Rand Paul here has only grown.
Paul gave a speech Friday before the first standing-room-only crowd at the conference so far, asking a cheering audience, "Will you, America's next generation of liberty-lovers, will you stand and be heard?"
Following his typical style, Paul's speech focused largely on personal freedom, the Fourth Amendment, and rights he alleged are being usurped by the Obama administration, while avoiding the tricky topic of foreign policy, where his libertarian views are not as widely accepted by conservatives here.
Paul's biggest applause line of the afternoon—the biggest applause line at CPAC so far—came during his discussion of what he perceived as President Obama's failures, particularly at the National Security Agency. "As our voices rise in protest, the NSA monitors your every phone call. if you have a cell phone, you are under surveillance. I believe what you do on your cell phone is none of their damn business," he said to loud cheers.
Paul continued an assault on Obama's record, getting laughs when he asked how history will remember the president, and later quoting Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters in asking whether former supporters of the president now believed they had "trade[d] your heroes for your ghosts? … Did they get you to exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?"
"I don't question President Obama's motives," Paul added, "but history will remember his timid defense of liberty."
Like his father, who was known to pack conservative conferences with supporters, the younger Paul has shown a striking ability to bring in engaged activists. In the packed hallways of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center over the last two days, the bright red-and-black "Stand With Rand" gear easily overshadows the few dozen Ted Cruz stickers and Ben Carson buttons adorning attendees' lapels.
Rand Paul at CPAC
Paul's team didn't have its own booth at CPAC this year, but the Young Americans for Liberty—which sold "I Stand With Rand" shirts and gave away stickers and posters—was easily the most crowded of the booths at this year's event, with dozens of largely young conservatives waiting patiently in line for their Rand gear throughout the conference up to now. Another group installed a life-sized cutout of the senator for photo ops, an honor that was only accorded to Paul and William F. Buckley.
Young Americans for Liberty Executive Director Jeff Frazee said that the booth was even more packed than at last year's event. The group gave away each and every one of the 1,100 T-shirts they brought with them by early Friday afternoon, Frazee said. The group's goal before the event was to sell 250 CPAC tickets through their website, he added. They sold more than 460.
Posters aren't allowed into the main ballroom where Paul took the stage Friday afternoon, but even an hour before his speech more than 30 "Stand With Rand" signs were lying on the floor outside the entrance, having been confiscated by security staff. Several made it into the room, though, thanks in part to a few Young Americans for Liberty volunteers who guided activists in how best to hide their signs to hold up during the speech.
Paul's book is easily the best-selling title this year, according to volunteers manning CPAC's bookstore, and his book-signing event Friday afternoon was crowded with activists dressed in full "Stand With Rand" gear.
And stand they did. As Paul wrapped up on Friday, he reminded the audience of his popular filibuster to a standing ovation. "It's a time for boldness and action. The time is now. Stand with me, stand together for liberty," he said, before exiting the stage.