For sale: handbags and conservative ideology

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National Harbor, Maryland (CNN)The speeches -- especially those from potential presidential candidates -- draw the most attention here at the annual gathering of conservative Republicans.

But two floors below the Conservative Political Action Conference's cavernous ballroom, there's an entirely different show.
An eclectic -- and sometimes bewildering -- mix of more than 120 vendors are peddling everything from handbags and advanced degrees to atheism and books. It's a mix of unvarnished capitalism and old school political recruiting.
But perhaps most importantly, the bazaar is a place where conservatives can capture the next generation.
    "Look at the kids," said Ami Francisco, who was working the Young Republican National Federation booth. "There are so many young people. There are high school kids here. There are college kids here and this is the future of our party."
    Francisco said the Young Republican's goal is to create a home for graduating college students through the age of 40, which she emphasized was important to the growth of the Republican Party,
    "We want to get them engaged, keep them engaged right from high school to college and into the Young Republicans so they are not dropping off," she said.
    CPAC is the logical recruiting ground to do that. At least 56% of the roughly 9,000 people who registered for the conference this year were of college age, according to organizers.
    The cost of renting a piece of this valuable real estate to make your conservative pitch: $4,000.
    Of all the conservative gatherings that occur each year, Annette Pettyjohn, director of admissions for Liberty University School of Law, described CPAC as "the best one for me to recruit students."
    "There is a huge student population here," she said. "That is why I come every year."
    Several booths away Danielle Muscato was trying to convince passersby that support for atheism was a conservative value.
    "Our main point is that conservative is not a synonym for Christian," said Muscato, who was representing American Atheists. "Conservative atheists exist, we matter and we want representation."
    Muscato's plea would seem to be at odds with a majority of CPAC attendees, who support the Judeo-Christian belief. Each day's session opens with a prayer, and on Friday, the speaker who delivered the invocation said, "Dear God we are here to learn and grow in conservative action."
    Still, Muscato, whose group was prevented from participating in CPAC in 2014, said she has experienced "overwhelming positive feedback," but did acknowledge there were detractors.
    "We have had two or three people come up and try to preach to us," she said. "But that is not really why we are here. We are not here to debate religion. We are talking about separation of religion and government."
    Walking through the vendor area, known as "CPAC Hub," feels, at times, like running through a gauntlet of pushy sales people trying to hand off literature, stickers, buttons and posters promoting ideology, issues, and even potential presidential candidates. While Sen. Rand Paul and Ben Carson delivered speeches in the main ballroom, downstairs staff and volunteers manned separate booths promoting each man's potential presidential candidacy.
    But the aggressive sales tactics by some vendors don't work on everyone.
    "They are kind of pushy with the stickers and the posters," said Anthony Christopher, a Drexel University student. "I know that I have walked past a couple of vendors and they have asked me if I wanted pins when they already gave me pins five minutes ago."
    Nick Pappas, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said that the organizations seeking to recruit grassroots volunteers at CPAC would be better served if they focused on promoting technology and boots on the ground.
    "Passing out traditional material and flyers and trying to sell shirts, no one changes their political beliefs based on a shirt," he said. "What we need to do is try and get conservative entertainment out there in the movies, we need to figure out other ways to change the culture on the ground level and just not focus on generic bland messaging. Unfortunately not enough booths are doing it."
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    Pappas and Christopher both pointed to one vendor, Turning Point USA, which they said was embracing this new engagement concept. Turning Point's booth was staffed by young adults who were trying to recruit college age students to join the organization, which describes itself as "the boots on the ground ... in the trenches in this never-ending battle to restore our republic and save this country."
    The beacon that drew people to Turning Point's booth was a large red sign that simply said "Big Government Sucks."
    Organizations with names such as Freedom Alliance, the Heartland Institute, Let Freedom Ring, and the National Tax Limitation Committee were all represented at the CPAC Hub. The National Rifle Association, a CPAC "Presenting Sponsor," even had a separate "Laser Shot" booth set up for attendees to take target practice in a virtual shooting range.
    And then there was Sylvia Noster, who came to CPAC from Dallas, to try and sell her line of conservative handbags.
    "I am selling handbags and that seems odd, I guess," she said. "These are handbags that are a direct reflection of my personal philosophy and personal concerns I have. I've designed a line that comes from my heart, which is conservatism. I hate to say conservatism, to me it is liberty."
    Noster said her handbags cost anywhere from $200 to $600 with names such as the "Liberty Collection," which are lined with text of the U.S. Constitution.
    Noster's booth was situated across from the NRA's set-up, which she said "makes me very happy." The conservative capitalist then noted her next design would be a "concealed carrier version," for a person to easily access a firearm.
    The lining, no surprise, will be the text of the 2nd Amendment.