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Local Young Conservatives Face Tough Choices

Energy in the Washington area is high today, as voters turn out for the Potomac primaries in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. But at least one group of young voters is not sharing in the excitement.

Local students and recent graduates in attendance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington on Friday said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s decision to suspend his campaign has left them with difficult and unsatisfying choices.

“I probably would have voted for Romney, but McCain is second-best I guess,” said Kristen Lawlor, a George Mason University freshman in attendance at the conference. “I feel like Mitt Romney is a true conservative and more truthful than [Sen. John] McCain [R-Ariz.]. I was so upset [when Romney dropped out]. It’s crazy, everyone’s dropping out. First [former New York Mayor Rudy] Giuliani [R], then Mitt Romney — it sucks.”

Lawlor said she will vote for McCain today, but only because she feels like she has to.

“I cried, I seriously did,” added Channing Sleete, Lawlor’s friend and a fellow GMU freshman. “I thought [Romney] was the only candidate that would uphold the conservative values that I believe in. [He could] pretty much save our country and our economy, [and] manage the war well. … Now I think we’re pretty much done.”

Sleete, who voted for Romney in the Michigan primary, said she would register in Virginia for the general election, and have a hard time voting for McCain.

“I’m not going to not vote at all, because I think it’s my patriotic duty,” she explained. “But I can’t in good conscience vote for McCain. … I can’t in good conscience vote for [Sens. Barack] Obama [D-Ill.] or Hillary [Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.] [either] so we’ll see how it plays out.”

Both students agreed that they would have an easier time considering McCain if he were to choose Romney as a running mate.

“I would still have a hard time, [but] that would be a smart move on his part,” Sleete said. “Ann Coulter said she would campaign for Hillary over voting for McCain.”

Miranda Bond, a recent college graduate who works for a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, said she was surprised by Romney’s announcement. She said that though she was never a Romney supporter, she wondered how his exit would affect the rest of the race.

“It’s really unfortunate,” Bond said. “I’ve seen a lot of McCain support, but I also hear a lot of [people] that are not on board with McCain. I think a lot of them were sad to see Romney drop out.”

Bond is registered to vote in today’s Virginia primary and plans to cast her ballot for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) despite his lagging numbers.

“I’m still all about Ron Paul and I think a lot of students here are,” she said, citing his divergence from the archetypal campaign rhetoric as an asset. “He’s not the typical polished politician. He says what he wants to say. He doesn’t say what he thinks everyone wants to hear.”

Asked whether she would consider a vote for Paul to be wasted because of his low numbers, Bond responded: “If he can get more attention, then it’s a step in the right direction for the future. I really think this is the start of, hopefully, something bigger for the Republican Party.”

Mary Ellen Burke, who supported Fred Thompson prior to his dropping out of the race, also plans to vote in the Virginia primary, though she has yet to choose her candidate.

“I was in the room with McCain yesterday when he spoke and I thought that the speech was very apologetic. I really don’t think he was received very well,” the 22-year-old said, mentioning that several people in the audience booed at the mention of his immigration plan. “I’m not so sure how genuine his sentiments are. I think he really realizes that he veers away from the conservative base.”

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