Washington, D.C. – In previous years Ron Paul supporters have dominated the annual Conservative Political Action Conference by gobbling up booth space and flooding the place with flyers. Paul's organization helped bring his supporters to CPAC in droves by paying their way just so they could vote for him in the meaningless straw poll. This year is different, though, as he skipped the conference to campaign in Maine. Neither Paul nor his various organizations have reserved booth space.
The lack of an organized Paul presence means a lack of young libertarians. Many attendees say that there is a lack of buzz at the event though it is a presidential year. The void has hurt business for some vendors, too.
"It hasn't nearly been what we've experienced in past years. It's honestly about a third of what we are use to," said Daniel Williams, part owner of MASSHQ, a Houston based marketing firm.
In between selling various Paul knick-knacks like golf balls, Zippo lighters, and shirts for his other venture, RonPaulSwag.com, Williams said that many people booked their CPAC trips because they expected Paul to be here and if they knew he was going to skip the conference they would have done the same.
"I am disappointed he is not here but it's probably better that he spend his time in Maine campaigning," said Megan Puffield, 25, a Paul supporter.
Her partner, Wes Messamore, 25, agreed with Paul's decision to go to Maine but lamented his absence from CPAC.
"It's a much different feel this time. There is less energy, the crowd is older," he said.
Backers of the other candidates noticed the lack of a Paul presence, too.
"I'm a moderate Republican so I tend to like libertarian views more than social conservatives," said Jessica Fugate, 29, a Romney supporter.
Fugate fumbled with her phone while waiting in the lobby to catch a glimpse of actor Allen Covert.
"It's bad that he's not here because he tends to bring out more young people. Libertarians tend to attract more young people," she said.
Outside Rick Santorum's booth Paul supporters were heckling a stand up of him with a sign mocking his Google problem. Santorum's staffers continued to pick at their lunch while Paul supporters posed to take pictures with the standup. Eventually a Santorum staffer stood up and shooed them away
When asked how he felt about Paul supporters pranking their booth, a Santorum staffer said, "They are free to do it. It's a free country."