First there was CPAC, then there was XPAC. Created by conservative author Kevin McCullough and actor Stephen Baldwin, the Xtreme Politically Active Conservatives is one of the newest groups to set up shop at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
The organization, which aims to engage young people, is responsible for the XPAC Lounge, a space where young conservatives can kick back and play a game of Wii between speeches from Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
“When kids can come and play video games and eat some popcorn and have some fun, usually it will motivate them to be more involved in everything else you’re doing,” McCullough says.
The lounge is the cornerstone of XPAC and offers a respite from the conference commotion. Featuring leather couches, various video game systems — including the popular game Rock Band — and free wireless Internet, it is designed for relaxation.
“A lot of these kids are here to motivate,” Baldwin says. “In between all of that motivation is some downtime.”
McCullough says he hopes XPAC will eventually grow beyond the lounge and into a movement of young voters. For now, it is a place for conservatives to meet each other.
“It seems like a pretty good place to relax and socialize,” says 15-year-old C.J. Scrofani of Northern Virginia.
In addition to offering a place to kick back, the XPAC lounge also offers dinner. While attending the formal CPAC banquets can cost more than $100 per person, XPAC includes two dinners in the price of a $20 admission ticket.
“It’s pretty cool. If you don’t have somewhere to go, it’s a good place to chill,” says 17-year-old Sydni Scrofani, C.J.’s sister. “The food was good.”
“Our wives figured out long ago that the way to our hearts was through our stomachs, so we figured we’d lend that theory to the conservative youths, and so far so good,” Baldwin says.
In the evenings, XPAC offers programming geared to the hip and the young in the lounge. On Friday and Saturday night the lounge will host “Epic Nights at XPAC” featuring conservative powerhouses such as Ann Coulter and Sarah Huckabee. Epic Nights are designed to allow students to interact with speakers.
“It’s a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s less formal than almost everything else here,” says 17-year-old Paul St. Jean, from Reston, Va.
Beginning at 11 p.m., after the speeches and discussions, the lounge hosts a late-night program that runs until the early hours of the morning. Conservative rap groups Hi-Caliber and Young Cons played on the first night, while several comedians were slated to perform on Friday night.
The idea for XPAC was born last year, when Baldwin and McCullough attended CPAC and saw that many of the students had little do after the speeches ended besides retire to their hotel rooms with a six-pack of beer.
“We knew they were not having as engaged of a time as they could be,” McCullough says. The two drew up their plan for the lounge on a napkin that night.
A group of seven volunteers helped Baldwin and McCullough create the lounge, which in the end cost between $120,000 and $160,000. McCullough says the endeavor has been an overwhelming success. About 1,200 students passed through the lounge on Thursday, and he was expecting double that on Friday.
We hope the students have “a good time in an environment that is an alternative to not [having] a good time,” Baldwin says.
The lounge has been so popular that Baldwin and McCullough have gotten offers to take it on the road to events such as the Iowa caucuses. While these plans have not been solidified, McCullough says students can be certain that the lounge will return to CPAC next year.
“It’ll be leaner, meaner and more lethal in a killer cool kind of way,” he says.