WASHINGTON, June 13 - They are young and bright and ardently right. They tack Ronald Reagan calendars on their cubicle walls and devote brown bag lunches to the free market theories of Friedrich von Hayek. They come from 51 colleges and 28 states, calling for low taxes, strong defense and dorm rooms with a view.
And let's get one thing straight: they're not here to run the copying machine.
The summer interns of the Heritage Foundation have arrived, forming an elite corps inside the capital's premier conservative research group. The 64 interns are each paid a 10-week stipend of $2,500, and about half are housed in a subsidized dorm at the group's headquarters, complete with a fitness room.
Unusual in its size (and in its walk-in closets), the program, on which Heritage spends $570,000 a year, is both a coveted spot on the young conservative circuit and an example of the care the movement takes to cultivate its young.
Scott Hurff, a senior at Wake Forest University, wanted the internship so badly that he filed three applications. Rachael Seidenschnur had set her eyes on Heritage since her youth in Little Rock, Ark., where she revived the teenage Republicans club at Central High School.
Kenneth Cribb came with family ties and a book by the conservative author Russell Kirk, which he said "sends chills up my spine." Daren Stanaway and Brian Christiansen welcomed Heritage as an escape from the liberal orthodoxies they said they experienced at Harvard and Yale.
"In the face of derogation, many intelligent young conservatives have simply responded by hiding their beliefs or going with the crowd," Ms. Stanaway wrote in an application essay. "I refuse to be one of them."
Like all Heritage applicants, she also answered a 12-item questionnaire designed to ferret out latent liberalism with questions about guns, abortion, welfare and missile defense. (If you agree with the statement that "tax increases are the most appropriate way to balance the budget," this is probably not the internship for you.)
Sitting in his supersized office atop the organization he has spent three decades building, Edwin J. Feulner, the longtime president at Heritage, cited the sign over a Heritage auditorium - "Building for the Next Generation" - as evidence of how central to his mission leadership development is.
"If we can get young people involved, they will continue to support Heritage, our idea and our causes," Mr. Feulner said. "We almost think of ourselves as a college."
Arguing that liberals dominate most campuses, Mr. Feulner said, "We've had to cultivate our alternative."
It is an alternative with few rivals. The Brookings Institution, a centrist group more than 50 years older than Heritage, has no paid interns. Neither does the Progressive Policy Institute, which promotes a centrist version of liberalism. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a premier antipoverty group, has 10 paid interns. People for the American Way, a bulwark of Beltway liberalism, has 40 - but no dorm.
"There's no question that the right wing over the last 25 years did a much better job of creating a farm system," said Ralph G. Neas, the president of People for the American Way. Like many other liberal groups, his has recently expanded its campus outreach activities in an effort to keep pace with the right.
"They invested in young people," Mr. Neas said. "We're trying to catch up."
While the prestige of Heritage is part of the appeal, so is the work, which rarely involves making coffee or copies. Joel Peyton, who just graduated from Western Kentucky University, is helping to write a paper on privatized services in national parks. That is a task for which he may be especially well suited: after spending three summers working in a Kentucky state park, he published a paper this year denouncing "the inefficiencies of a government-run park system."
When Mr. Peyton's application reached the desk of Ronald D. Utt, a Heritage senior fellow, Mr. Utt said, "Get this guy." An expert in privatization, Mr. Utt had been wanting to make the same arguments about the National Park Service, which he called "the world's largest lawn care and janitorial service."
Mr. Peyton will spend the summer outside Mr. Utt's office, helping to make the case.
Heritage has had interns, in ones and twos, ever since its founding in 1973. But it intensified its effort about 15 years ago, hiring a full-time intern coordinator. Another leap forward occurred in 1999, when a supporter, Tom Johnson, offered to donate an adjacent building. Mr. Feulner embarked on a $12 million fund-raising drive to renovate it and carved out space for 30 dorm rooms. For $10,000, donors could have their names in bronze on a dorm room door.
Dr. C. N. Papadopoulos underwrote two rooms, in honor of his mother and his mother-in-law. Dr. Papadopoulos, a Greek immigrant now in Houston, left his work as an anesthesiologist for ventures in banking and real estate, and became a Heritage donor a decade ago after a direct-mail solicitation appealed to his belief in free enterprise.
Dr. Papadopoulos said he helped finance the dorms because he wanted "these young folks to go to Washington and find out what this country is all about."
"This is the land of opportunity," Dr. Papadopoulos said, "and it always will be as long as the you don't depend on the federal government to do everything."
Katherine Rogers, a junior at Georgetown, is spending the summer in the Keith and Lois Mitchell room, on the Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Smyth floor, just upstairs from the Norma Zindahl Intern Lounge, which is adjacent to the William J. Lehrfeld Intern Center. Ms. Rogers's father is a longtime Heritage donor, and she is working in donor relations, which she thinks will be useful in her intended career as a pharmaceutical lobbyist.
"It's all about forging one-to-one relationships," Ms. Rogers said. "That's where business starts."
Among notable former Heritage interns are Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, and Thad T. Viers, elected at 24 to the South Carolina Legislature. Now a 27-year-old law student as well as a lawmaker, Mr. Viers described Heritage as a prized stop on a journey that stretched from a childhood in a single-wide trailer through college at the Citadel and into political life.
"It's always a card I have in my arsenal if anybody wants to challenge my conservative credentials," Mr. Viers said. "It's a trump card, too." Other former interns hold posts on Capitol Hill and in the White House.
Mr. Lowry theorizes that young conservatives are especially interested in the ideas undergirding their politics, often having come from liberal campuses where they have had to defend themselves. That theory finds support among the current interns, who often talk of being outnumbered by left-leaning peers.
Among the perks of the summer program is a lunch series in which interns make their way through the conservative canon. "Being raised a Christian, with family values, I want to make sure I have a solid philosophical footing," said Mr. Hurff, 21, the Wake Forest senior.
Mr. Cribb, whose uncle, T. Kenneth Cribb Jr., was a Reagan aide and a Heritage fellow, said that the internship offered a chance "to study the fundamental ideas of conservatism." Last week, speakers at Heritage events included Edwin Meese, the former attorney general, and the historian David McCullough.
Ms. Seidenschnur, 21, a senior at Washington and Lee, found herself in a political minority as early as high school as she worked in three Republican clubs.
"I was sick of being ridiculed by my teachers for being a Republican: 'Oh, here comes the Republican,' " she said. A veteran intern, she has worked on Capitol Hill (for former Senator Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas), in the White House (for the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives) and at a fund-raising organization (the National Republican Congressional Committee).
"Most of my internships were more on the campaign and active side of politics," Ms. Seidenschnur said. "I wanted to come to Heritage to see more of the intellectual side of politics and the conservative thought movement. When I analyzed my résumé, I realized that was greatly missing."
Oh, and the internship held one other appeal.
"I have a balcony," she said. "It's just magical."