BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Republicans from Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin and other Midwestern states key to control of the White House and Congress after the 2012 election mobilized Friday, using a conference to plot strategies for raising money and GOP voter turnout.
Along the way, the more than 1,000 party activists from 12 states heard from rising stars and veteran campaigners about how they might, as Minnesota GOP's chairman put it, "paint the Midwest red."
Despite their enthusiasm, Republicans know they are battling history in some places. Minnesota hasn't given its electoral votes to a GOP nominee since 1972; Wisconsin's Democratic streak goes back to 1984. And President Barack Obama won seven of the 12 states in 2008.
It's not just the presidency in play. Several Senate seats the GOP has targeted as high priorities are in the Midwest, from North Dakota to Wisconsin and Missouri. Democrats head into 2012 with a slim 51-47 hold on the chamber.
Sessions at the Republican Midwest Leadership Conference included tips for spreading conservative messages on the Internet and while knocking on doors and on how to raise money in a down economy. Participants also talked about how to keep different conservative factions from hindering the party's chances.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus appealed particularly to tea party members, who helped the GOP last year but who have freely voiced frustration over results in Washington since then.
"For all of our friends in the tea parties," Priebus said. "I want you to know, No. 1, we love you, No. 2, we are not in competition with the conservative movement, we're just part of that movement. We want to work with you."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a face of a more-tenacious GOP, implored Republicans to get behind candidates willing to push the envelope when it comes to changing government. He held up his confrontation with labor unions over collective bargaining as a model for the bold-strokes thinking Republicans shouldn't be afraid to pursue.
"We sent a clear message that it's more important to think about the next generation than it is to think about the next election. We see that more clearly defined than ever in this presidential election," Walker said. "We've got a president who is already back out on the campaign trail trying to deflect for lack of leadership in Washington."
Despite last winter's acrimony in Madison — his bill curtailing union bargaining provoked huge protests for weeks — Republicans have withstood a larger push by Democrats and labor unions to punish them for the changes he engineered. Two Republican state senators lost their seats in recalls but the party still has the majority.
Obama was far and away the main target for GOP jabs, including from veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove. The top political adviser to former President George W. Bush criticized Obama for taking a combative tone over his stalled jobs package.
"Think about this: He wants to run against the do-nothing Republican Congress," Rove said. "The last time I checked, half the Congress was Democrat, called the United States Senate. If you want to run against your leadership and (Majority Leader) Harry Reid, more power to you Mr. President."
The two-day conference concludes with a straw poll expressing candidate preferences for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. No White House hopefuls are due to speak before Saturday's straw poll.