Tyler Deaton stands by a doorway outside Fathoms, a hotel patio lounge in this coastal town in the Deep South.
Deaton, 27, is a strong believer in low taxes, fiscal responsibility and civic involvement. He attended a Christian liberal arts school. He is a Republican.
He's also gay.
He's been in a relationship for several years, having met his partner at Wheaton College, a Christian institution outside Chicago. Raised in Alabama, Deaton moved to New Hampshire because it approves of same-sex marriage and has no income tax or sales tax.
This evening, Deaton is helping host a reception to raise interest in same-sex marriage issues among Young Republicans, who are gathered in Mobile for their national convention. Deaton is campaign manager for the young conservatives' arm of Freedom to Marry, a national gay rights group.
On Deaton's side of the doorway, things are going well. Deaton and his colleagues have collected more than 50 e-mail addresses -- about a sixth of the total number of conventioneers, he says.
But there aren't so many on the other side. All told, perhaps two dozen people made their way to the outdoor patio, munching on the abundant food and cashing in their drink tickets.
Even among the visitors there are those who do not seem completely comfortable; one man, after exclaiming how great the party is and his hopes for more approval of same-sex marriage, declined to give his name and hustled away at the sign of a reporter's notebook.
It hasn't been much different at the convention as a whole. Despite Freedom to Marry statistics that indicate most Republicans under 50 approve of same-sex marriage, the group hit some roadblocks with convention organizers.
Deaton's group wanted a panel discussion of LGBT issues on the official convention agenda. That request was turned down. It wanted to be a sponsor of the convention. That was also rejected. After deciding to have a reception and booking a slot, the scheduling ended up clashing with gatherings of various state groups.
It's OK, says Deaton, neatly dressed in suit and tie, in a voice that hints of his Southern upbringing.
"We're not in this to make enemies or to fight," he said. Progress, he admits, will take time.
It's a lesson he hopes the GOP is learning.
"The GOP has become too much of a club that defines itself by who it's leaving out," he says. "And I think the GOP has to do a better job of defining itself by its ideas, and letting anybody who shares those ideas come in and be a part of it."
A 'get off my lawn' attitude
The Republican Party is in a race with the future.
Though it holds power in the House of Representatives and a majority of statehouses, its demographics, for now, are going the wrong direction.
The country is becoming more urban and diverse, two details that favor Democrats. In 2012, blacks and Hispanics overwhelmingly went for the president; Obama also got 55% of the women's vote, 60% of voters under 30 and almost 70% of the vote in cities with 500,000 people or more.
Worse than the numbers is the impression they make. In a recent study, another young GOP group, the College Republicans, put it bluntly: the GOP is seen as "closed-minded, racist, rigid, (and) old-fashioned."
The Young Republicans cut a somewhat different figure than today's national GOP. They're not just younger -- members range from college age to 40 -- but less doctrinaire as well, preferring to focus on economics and civic involvement.
The YR -- the full name is the Young Republican National Federation -- describes itself as "the premier Republican grassroots organization in the nation." Formerly an arm of the Republican National Committee, it's now an independent, all-volunteer group, though it still provides campaign support for conservative causes and Republican candidates.
A number of noted politicians, including current House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-California, and former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, have come from its ranks. Volunteer executive director Soren Dayton estimates 70,000 people belong to YR chapters across the country.
Much of the group's work is in civic affairs. "It's not just social networking," says Dayton, who works as a media and public affairs consultant. "It's people who serve."
The group includes young professionals in their 20s and 30s and reflects a shift into more libertarian territory.
John Head, a Chicago-based business development consultant, is an example of the new breed.
"Social issues should not be the main focus over fiscal issues," says Head, nattily dressed for the convention in a seersucker suit and brown-and-white saddle shoes. "We have a debt problem, we have a health care problem whether you agree or disagree with what's coming, and those are things we should focus on."
He sums it up succinctly: "I'm very involved on the fiscal side, and I'm 'get off my lawn' on the social side."
It's a small-government attitude shared by many youthful conservatives, says Arizona State University professor Donald Critchlow, a historian of the conservative movement.
"There's a very, very strong libertarian voice among the young," he says. "They're very liberal -- if you want to use that term -- on social issues: gay rights, abortion, marijuana and war, those kinds of social issues that would put them on the left side of the spectrum. But they're coming from a libertarian perspective."
These are folks who backed Ron Paul for president, or ended up voting for Obama because they disliked the GOP's stand on social issues, he says.
Republicans like Deaton stay because they want to help the party resolve that tension.
"If you're going to be involved in something political, my goal has been to really be involved," he says. "It would be harder for me if I was a Republican and not doing something to change the Republican Party."
Red meat and prayers
The main activities this weekend include electing new officers, renewing contacts and planning for the future. But there are bits of the boisterousness seen every four years at the parties' presidential nominating conventions. The delegations tried to outdo one another in highlighting their state's accomplishments at roll call (Head brought a blow-up Stanley Cup to showcase his Chicago Blackhawks' victory in the NHL playoffs). Some delegations hosted parties and social gatherings.
There was also plenty of classic conservative red meat to be chewed. Of the handful of vendors' tables, one was sponsored by former Sen. Rick Santorum's organization, Patriot Voices. Another featured flyers from the libertarian Cato Institute for an e-book called "Replacing Obamacare." One man hawked copies of his book, "A Time to Kill: The Myth of Christian Pacifism."
Large meetings opened with prayers, some of them in Jesus' name, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. In speeches, there were invocations of Obamacare and the 2009 bailouts, pointed mentions of the IRS, the use of "Democrat" (instead of "Democratic") as an adjective, and proud defenses of states' rights and tax cuts.
For many, the convention was also an opportunity to talk about ways of moving the party forward after the losses of the 2012 election campaign.
The lack of diversity was obvious at the convention's general gatherings. The majority of the 300-plus attendees were men; just a handful were Hispanic or African-American.
The YR's outreach committee has been trying to find ways of expanding the tent. At a discussion, the group suggested appealing to minorities by stressing the GOP's economic message of entrepreneurship and fiscal responsibility.
Outgoing YR Chair Lisa Stickan, an attorney and former prosecutor from Cleveland, believes this is a winning strategy.