SACRAMENTO -- California's rank-and-file Republicans, beaten down after being handed near-historic losses in last November's election, came here this weekend looking for a bit of direction and a strong dose of inspiration.
They may have gotten both from former Bush White House adviser Karl Rove, who bluntly told delegates Saturday during a lunch keynote speech: "My message is this -- get off your ass."
Rove hit on some of the issues that have the state's Republicans fretting. Among them: appealing to minorities -- especially Hispanics. He talked about how the Republican Party turned it around in Texas, and did so by recruiting candidates that reflected the United States -- a majority were either women or minorities.
"We need to have the diversity that is America, and if we do, we'll have success," he said.
But what didn't need to be changed, Rove said, was the party's core message of limited government and individual responsibility. It's one that has worked in much of the nation, he said.
Rove's blunt call to arms to the state's Republicans was to work harder and think of new ways to get that core Republican values message out to a broader swath of the electorate and to look for ways to grow not only the party's base, but also its roster of candidates, to include minorities.
Delegates were left to ponder whether that will happen -- and when.
After losing four congressional seats and letting rival Democrats capture a veto-proof two-thirds majority in both the state Senate and Assembly last November, there was reason for skepticism.
For now, the only good job Republicans are doing is talking to each other.
"You've got a big task," Rove told California's delegates. "It's going to be tough."
Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is the House's third-ranking Republican, said before a Friday speech to the Sacramento Press Club that California's Republican Party "can only go up."
But political analyst Allan Hoffenblum, a longtime Republican strategist and publisher of the California Target Book, which tracks the state's elections, still feels the party could fall further.
"It's a toxic brand to too many Californians," he said.
At least in public, no one talked in specifics about how to work on the party's image. Rove did meet with county party chairs and Republican legislators and talked about ways to broaden the party's message, attendees said.
Clovis businessman Don Watnick is at the convention but didn't attend Rove's speech because he felt Rove would only talk issues. Right now, he said, the party must address "image over issues." Only when the image is repaired, he said, will the electorate start paying attention to issues.
In the current political climate, Watnick said, "people aren't paying attention."
For those who do pay attention, the message shouldn't be fundamentally different, both Rove and McCarthy said. Both spent a large amount of time talking about rising budget deficits and overspending since Democratic President Barack Obama took office.
As he consistently does, the always-acerbic Democratic campaign strategist Bob Mulholland crashed the GOP party to belittle his political rivals.
"There's not even a light at the end of the tunnel for the Republican Party in California," Mulholland said.
Inviting Rove to speak, he said, "symbolizes the archaic Republican Party of the 1950s, and that's not going to work in California."
But delegates think there is a light at the tunnel's end -- represented by former state Sen. Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga, who is widely expected to be elected Sunday morning as the state party's new chairman.