CPAC unleashed: Orange rifles, 'abortion hurts' stickers

Two floors below CPAC's political headliners lies the more colorful corner of the conservative conference, a bustling retreat where bumper-sticker philosophy and youthful grassroots activism rule.

Sure, the ballroom is the main attraction, and high-profile Republican operators like former House speaker Newt Gingrich make a bee line to conservative-friendly media outlets on the adjacent radio row.

But the Conservative Political Action Conference exhibition hall is where the party's traditions rub up against the Republican gene pool's younger generation -- and it is a rich source of conservative swag.

Friday attendees needing to blow off some steam over Republicans' poor showing at the ballot box in November headed to the National Rifle Association booth for some target practice, with an orange laser-sighted rifle.

"It's popular, it breaks the serious atmosphere of the show that's upstairs," said the NRA's Diane Danielson, avoiding talk of the sensitivities over a swirling gun control debate in the wake of a Connecticut school massacre.

As for the NRA emery boards that she is giving away, they are finding an unintended audience. "Fishermen love to use them as fishhook sharpeners," she said.

US Congressman Steve King said CPAC recharges his conservative batteries -- and connects him to many young Republicans still a dozen years or more away from contemplating a run for office.

"I come in here, and I top my tank off with octane and come out of here like a rocket," King told AFP.

"This is a nexus, the best place to be for conservatives in the world, right here."

Dozens of conservative groups are pushing their agenda. Tea Party Patriots were giving away coloring books that lay out the group's support for small government.

"Abortion Hurts!" screamed one bumper sticker from the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).

"Girls Just Wanna Have Guns," said another. "OMG! Obama Must Go," read a third.

Christians United for Israel were providing coffee mugs and mouse pads with the slogan "For Zion's sake, I will not keep silent," while another group was distributing "The Ultimate Obama Survival Guide," which teaches conservatives "how to survive, thrive and prosper during Obamageddon."

For those who've been consorting with too many liberals, there was conservative hand sanitizer gel, while swag bags urged people to "Keep Calm and Ignore the Alarmists."

Former senator Rick Santorum, a Republican candidate in the 2012 race, took basketball shots in the exhibit hall.

And Florida's former governor Jeb Bush, the brother of ex-president George W. Bush, popped in late Friday to sign copies of his book for hundreds of fans.

One exhibit that would jar anyone back to the social issues that pervade the movement's social agenda was that of the NRLC, which displayed size- and weight-accurate models of unborn fetuses.

"Pregnant women have stopped to say 'I've got a baby that big,'" Olivia Gans Turner said as she held one of the molded rubber fetal models.

Others stopped to take pictures alongside life-sized cardboard cutouts of late president Ronald Reagan (popular), former congressman Allen West (even more popular) and former Bush strategist Karl Rove (not so much).

If carousing the 150 booths in the room leaves you thirsty, purchase a Marco Rubio water bottle. More than 7,000 have been sold since the rising star US senator's inconvenient sip of water during his speech rebutting President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.

With a nod to the next generation of conservatives, Kristina Marie Beacom sought to lure attendees to the booth of Red State Date, an online dating site.

"We make it easier to find your exact policy match," Beacom said with no irony.

"They have a Blue State Date too," she explained. "They're just not marketing it here."