OXON HILL, MD. Typifying the banner overhead them that heralded, "America's Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives," two Republican senators considered up-and-coming bright lights of the party Thursday kicked off the annual three-day Conservative Political Action Conference, bearing messages of the conservative fight while panning longtime staples of the GOP.
Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., for all intents and purposes, headlined the day, with back-to-back addresses at the Gaylord Hotel and Conference Center on Maryland's National Harbor. Paul, a libertarian favorite who has skyrocketed in name recognition following his nearly 13-hour filibuster on drone strikes last week, took the opportunity to thicken the line between those many in the audience blamed for consecutive 2008 and 2012 losses in the presidential election, and the trailblazers of 2016.
"The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered," Paul said. "I don't think we need to name any names, do we?"
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who unsuccessfully took on eventual nominee Mitt Romney last cycle, brought a like approach, simultaneously blasting '08 nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. - who was seen as a maverick but an entrenched member of Washington's "good 'ol boys" - and Romney, who embodied the privileged "country club" stereotype of the party.
"The popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideals, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections," Perry said. "That might be true," he continued, "if Republicans had actually nominated conservatives in 2008 and 2012."
Paul and Ryan, "if you're listening to their message," said William Temple, a tea party member from Brunswick, Ga., "they're talking about the new focus, the new GOP - a younger GOP." Taking a swipe at the Republican senators who sat down to dinner with President Obama in D.C. last week to hash out differences over the federal budget, he said members of the "old guard" include McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., "who had their $85 dinners with the enemy the other night, while Rand Paul was eating his candy bar on the House floor for 13 hours.
"I think that shows you the change," Temple said.
It's a matter of reinvigorating those invested in the conservative philosophy, Matthew Trojanowski said: "Romney didn't motivate the base, and five million Republicans didn't show up - or conservatives, or independents. And that's why we lost. We need to generate or rev up the base."
Many of the attendees who spoke with CBS News pointed to libertarianism as the new frontier of the conservative movement, particularly because of its attractiveness to younger generations. Others said it's time to stop putting labels on conservatives' ideologies, for risk of splintering the base.
"I don't care if it's tea party, Republican Party, or CPAC, or whatever - if we don't get back to the Constitution, America is done; America is finished," said "Sheriff" Richard Mack, made famous by his lawsuit against the federal government alleging portions of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act violated the Constitution.
Emmett Reistroffer, director of the public advocacy group, "Families First," argued that a wealth of nuanced dissimilarities in the conservative movement is a good thing: "I don't see a civil war, necessarily," he said, adding that he appreciated Paul's filibuster, as well as McCain's lambast of it. "What I see is just a multitude of ideas, and kind of figuring out how we are going to stay binded in this changing world."
Heading forward, some said, a priority for conservatives should be on distinguishing itself from its age-old reputation as the anti-progress party.
"The phrase, 'damage control' comes to mind," Emory University graduate student David Giffin said about where the movement should go next. "Not necessarily because of the fact that we have to do anything to overhaul the principles... I think the principles are sound; I think the messaging and our ability to reach out to younger voters, minority voters, being able to demonstrate to people, 'No, this isn't just some rich white guy club. This is for everyone.'"
Greg Thrasher, director of Plane Ideas in Washington, D.C., shouted through the hotel's atrium that he was the only African-American in sight.
"Where are the black people today? Where are we?" he said. "The GOP made this big noise about [how] they wanted to reach out and expand the tent, and get into inclusion. And I just don't see it."
One superstar in the party - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who keynoted the Republican National Convention last fall and whose candid, no-nonsense approach to essentially all aspects of his leadership has vaulted him to a potential top-tier position for 2016 - was not even invited to CPAC. Meantime, 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who's made a reputation out of controversial remarks and who isn't likely to seek office again, was.
Most seemed to back CPAC chair Al Cardenas' decision to pass on Christie given his opt-in for expanded Medicaid and work with the president on a large superstorm Sandy aid package. Demonstrating the divide between the new and old guard, Sen. Lindsey Graham, being escorted through the halls Thursday, said the governor should have made the cut.
"I think he should be" at CPAC, Graham told reporters. "It's up to the people to invite him, but I think he's a good voice in the Republican Party. So yeah, I would have liked to have seen him here, I just think that he represents an element of the party."
Romney is on tap to speak this afternoon; Palin will cap the conference with a speech Saturday.