Arlington, VA (CNSNews.com) - Among the most visible presidential supporters at the 27th Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday were those of GOP presidential nomination candidates Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes. While some attendees said they favored Texas Governor George W Bush for president, and one self-described conservative was wearing a John McCain sticker, the most enthusiastic presidential supporters at CPAC Thursday appeared to be those backing former President Reagan's special U.N. ambassador, Alan Keyes. "He [Keyes] is by far the best speaker of the bunch," Ryan Wierzbicki of Western Carolina University told CNSNews.com.
Wierzbicki was attending CPAC with fellow WCU students and Keyes supporters Mary Beth Fulgate, Holly Rhodarmer and Jason Godfrey. The quartet said they are active Republicans on their campus who believe that Keyes is the best GOP presidential candidate out of the field of six hopefuls - Bush, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, Forbes, Arizona Sen. John McCain and family activist Gary Bauer.
"Alan Keyes is the most conservative of them all," Rhodarmer told CNSNews.com.
However, Clemson University College Republican member Cal Stevens told CNSNews.com that he favors Bush and expects him to run against Democrat Al Gore in November.
"I like Bush's stance on taxes," Stevens told CNSNews.com. He added that he agrees with Bush on the issue of flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina statehouse. Bush has stated that South Carolinians should decide the matter.
"Being from South Carolina, I feel that Bush is exactly correct," Stevens told CNSNews.com.
Republican committeeman Dave Allen from Valley Forge, Pa. told CNSNews.com that he likes both Forbes and Hatch, but he will support whomever the party picks as a candidate.
"I'm split between Mr. Forbes and Orrin Hatch," he said.
"Unfortunately, all of my life I've had to settle for the least vicious politician and I will support Mr. Bush as opposed to Al Gore or Bill Bradley," Allen told CNSNews.com.
Susan Waidner, College Republican President at Bowling Green University in Ohio, told CNSNews.com that she believes Steve Forbes is best qualified to carry the conservative mantle into the next presidential election.
"Forbes really has some fresh ideas that the other candidates are sometimes afraid to address," Waidner told. She said that she is especially impressed by Forbes' flat tax plan.
But another CR member from Bowling Green said that while he likes Keyes and is impressed with his speaking ability, he could also support a presidential ticket headed by Bush. "Bush is young, and I like that," Steve Imes told CNSNews.com. "I also like his family."
This year's conference stands in sharp contrast to last year when the then crop of GOP presidential contenders included Dan Quayle, Elizabeth Dole and Lamar Alexander, who all had numerous supporters working to gain support for their candidates.
"So far, only Forbes and Keyes fans have established a presence this year," one CPAC official told CNSNews.com.
Clemson student activists Mark Mead and Adam Witty said they are supporting Pat Buchanan and John McCain respectively for president.
Mead, who is also a College Republican, told CNSNews.com that he plans to vote in the Reform Party primary for Buchanan, a former Republican.
"Buchanan is my man," Mead told CNSNews.com. "I really caught on to his message when I read his autobiography 'Right From the Beginning.'"
Witty, also a College Republican said that he strongly favors McCain.
"I think that Sen. McCain is a wonderful person. He is right for America," Witty told CNSNews.com.