Thousands of conservatives are meeting near Washington this week looking for answers in the wake of Republican election losses last November. The Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, also serves as an audition for Republicans who may want to run for president in 2016.
The CPAC conference draws conservative activists from around the country. Among those looking to make a strong impression was Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
“In the vast history of the world and of mankind, almost everyone that’s ever been born is poor and disadvantaged with no ability to get ahead," he said. "What’s made us different is that here people have had the real chance to get a better life no matter where they started out.”
Rubio is considered a possible presidential contender for 2016, as is Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Unlike other conservatives, though, Paul said the Republican Party must change.
"We need a Republican Party that shows up on the South Side of Chicago and shouts at the top of our lungs, 'We are the party of jobs and opportunity!' The GOP [Grand Old Party] is the ticket to the middle class."
The meeting serves as a melting pot for conservative activists, complete with live Tea Party television broadcasts and scores of conservative talk radio hosts.
President Barack Obama won re-election last November thanks in large part to overwhelming support from minority and younger voters, something organizer Al Cardenas says has to change.
“America has changed demographically, and, if the conservative movement wants to be a majority movement in this country, it needs to appeal in equal force to everyone in this country,” said Cardenas.
Iowa Congressman Steve King said conservatives remain upbeat despite last year’s election.
"We are getting our energy back. I mean that is really it," he said. "Certainly it will be viewed upon the November 6 election as a defeat. But it wasn’t that we lost, but it is the things we planned on achieving that we didn’t achieve.”
But many conservatives here resist the notion of compromising on core principles, including college student Kelsey Drapkin.
“I know there was a lot of talk of maybe we should be more lenient on the social issues," Drapkin said. "But I don’t think that is the answer. You have to stick to your principles.”
A resistance to change and compromise could eventually split Republicans, said political analyst Norm Ornstein.
“They don’t have any intention of listening to the old establishment figures, and we are going to see a very substantial tug-of-war within Republican Party circles that could divide the party dramatically,” Ornstein said.
For the moment, though, CPAC attendees are focused on the future and the search for a younger generation of leadership.