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19 Feb, 2010 01:09

US conservatives reach out to youth

Republicans want to reach out to young conservatives. Are they getting the party started – or missing the point?

 Thousands of conservative US citizens united in Washington, DC at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, an annual event that gives members of right-wing political movements their biggest chance to convene over shared values.

"If you agree taxes should be small, goverment should be limited and shouldn't make it feasible to kill unborn children," said Kevin McCullough, conservative talk show host and host of the conference's "XPAC" lounge, expressing the basic tenets of American conservatism.

It's also a place to pick up a Sarah Palin poster and pose for photos with cardboard cutouts of many a conservative's biggest hero, former president Ronald Reagan.

"My computers' background, my screen saver, all of them are Ronald Reagan," said young conservative Matt, 17. "I love the guy."

They love Reagan even if he may not truly have embodied all of their principles.

"How can you call yourself a conservative and triple the size of the budget," said libertarian Gabriel Sukenik of the Young Americans for Liberty, criticizing Reagan's fiscal policies.

"That's true, perhaps he wasn't very fiscally conservative," admits Reagan's biggest fan Matt.

In the main ballroom, formal speakers talk about the state of the conservative movement, and their words are piped throughout the conference on television screens. But on another set of television screens, video games are being played. And this may be the real future of the conservative movement, or at least one Hollywood actor is hoping so.

"We just said 'let's see what happens if we pull something together called XPAC and make it a social entertainment lounge," said host and actor Stephen Baldwin.

It's a new lounge with a "cooler" vibe, giving young conservatives the chance to bond over "Modern Warfare" video games and hopefully start a discussion about real war policy – like what's going on in Afghanistan.

"I think we're going the right course right now with the troops surge," said Anthony Adamsky, a young conservative. 

In between video game rounds, XPAC is trying to energize and empower a conservative youth movement.

But one young conservative in the lounge said he didn't know who he was most excited to see. He didn't remember who was speaking. 

It appears the lounge hosts are also trying to rebuff the image that the Republican Party is unhip, stuffy, or old. It's a nod to Barack Obama, a guy on the other side of the aisle, who was able to bring the youth out in droves to elect him president.

"Clearly what Obama did was brilliant," said Baldwin. "We believe XPAC is a new spark in what we believe to be a coming conservative revival."

But outside the doors of the XPAC lounge, a young conservative revivial is already energized.

"The real energy right now has nothing to do with the left or right game," said Sukenik. "It's about freedom, liberty, and the Constitution [of the US]."

This group of young conservatives don't worship Ronald Reagan, but the founding fathers, and say they're sick of the hypocrisy of politics.

"Listen, the youthful energy just isn't gonna take it anymore," said Sukenik, arguing that young conservatives won't compromise on their conservative values.

It's not video games that get them fired up, but constitutional conservatism. And could that be what would really get the Republican Party started?

"The republicans, you want to roll with us, great! I'm happy to work with you guys," said Sukenik. "If not, peace, I'll see you later."