"I think there's this misconception that younger people are only looking at social issues," Stickan said. "You have a lot of people graduating college who are in serious debt and are having trouble finding a job, and if you asked them about social issues, they would say, 'I'm having trouble surviving here.'"
Stickan, 35, talks with the friendly demeanor and flattened vowels of her native Midwest. She's been active with the party since law school and identified with it before then. But hers is a Main Street, grass-roots Republicanism, focused on civic involvement and fiscal rectitude. She serves on the city council of Highland Heights, a Cleveland suburb.
"I enjoy that because it's not a partisan role," she says. "I'm there in the capacity of good-government services and working with the public."
Though it's important to mention the Obama administration's faults, she says, she believes the Republicans are ill-served by Washington mudslinging. She wants the party to "step in, in a positive manner," and listen to voters.
"I am from a swing state, so I talk to a lot of people who are in the middle, (but) that's not what they want to hear about," she says. "You have a serious situation where people cannot get food on the table, cannot bring a paycheck home. That's a problem."
'You're not alone'
Indeed, Stickan adds, the GOP has to keep up with the times. That means using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to stay in touch with voters. The Democrats have been making good use of online media since at least the Howard Dean days; the Republicans are doing better but need to do more, she says.
"The social media, particularly for some low-information voters or younger voters, is important, just to keep up with the trends," Stickan says.
Angel Garcia, a Chicago attorney, shrewdly used the technology to help build his moribund local YR chapter from a handful of people to several hundred.
The first step, Garcia said, was getting noticed.
"There was nothing here, so we had to take advantage of some natural strengths," said Garcia, 39. That meant working the media, tapping into wealthy donors and getting the word out to transplants from elsewhere in the Midwest.
So the club did a marketing campaign, posting ads on mass transit, billboards, even in bar restrooms. During the 2012 presidential campaign, the group made a YouTube video -- a parody of "Call Me Maybe" -- that received more than 150,000 views and earned the club a mention on the Huffington Post. It has maintained aggressive Twitter and Flickr accounts. The club now has a mailing list of thousands.
"We literally said, 'You're not alone,'" Garcia says. "That was really the turning point."
The publicity was nothing new for Garcia, who likes the exposure. When the GOP needed a face to talk about Latino issues in Chicago, Garcia became the go-to guy. With his cleanly shaved head, nimble patter and ever-present cell phone, Garcia fits comfortably into a white-collar demographic; he's an MBA who spent several years at the Chicago Board of Trade before deciding to practice law.
But he has a classic immigrant story: His parents moved to the United States from Mexico in the early '70s for work in the steel mills along Lake Michigan, and his father later started an auto repair business. It was small-business issues that helped turn Garcia into a Republican, he says. He entered the law partly because he saw a niche for a Spanish-speaking attorney. He characterizes himself as a "neighborhood lawyer."
'An anti-, anti-, anti- image'
Many of the Latino Young Republicans -- a small but notable group at the convention -- talk about their membership with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they believe in the party's small-government, faith-and-family principles. On the other, they bristle at some of the anti-immigrant talk within the party.
Texas YR official Chris Carmona made the point explicitly at one breakout session. Thanks to party members' harsh words, Republicans are thought of in the Hispanic community as anti-immigrant, anti-family and anti-religious, he observes. "We have an anti-, anti-, anti- image of everything possible in the Hispanic community."
Texas delegate Artemio Muniz expands on that point. Muniz, a 32-year-old from Houston, is the son of illegal immigrants. His family was on welfare, sold chips at the ballpark and took items from trash bins to sell.
"We started at the bottom," he says. "We know what bootstrapping means." His parents were given amnesty as part of a 1986 immigration reform bill signed by Ronald Reagan.
He grimaces when he thinks about how some Republicans treat Latinos.
"I've been at Tea Party meetings where the lady is saying, 'Let's deport them all,' and the lady that's serving her is an illegal immigrant bringing her nacho chips."
But he became a Republican, he says, because the party represents promise. The Mexican community has pride, he says, and its beliefs fit with the conservatism of the Republican Party and its leaders.
"Reagan was a legit guy that understood the heart," he says. "(George W.) Bush as well. He understood. He had credibility. He was authentic. He knew the experience of being a Texan."
But the GOP has to recognize the problems of the working class, he says.
"It's like any other blue-collar neighborhood," he says. "It's not a Hispanic thing necessarily. Your guy that's living paycheck to paycheck can be any race, and here's a party saying we're going to cut programs. They want to know, what are you going to do to help the family? It's more of being in touch with hard-working people."
His YR colleague Garcia has mixed feelings about the congressional stalemate over the immigration reform bill, which was passed by the Senate in late June but is being held up in the House. He'd like to see a narrower bill, one that could get more Republican support. "Democrats moving the goalposts makes that less likely," he says.
But, he admits, Republicans still look bad.
"At the end of the day I'm a pragmatist, and I understand politics," he says. "And I think we've done a poor job framing the issue."
The 'Akin effect'
The communications problems also apply to women.
Christina Goodlander of the D.C. delegation summed up the issue in two words: "Akin effect" -- a reference to Todd Akin, the Missouri U.S. Senate candidate who made controversial comments about "legitimate rape" and pregnancy.
While noting that Akin's words were "pretty horrible," "those comments were played over and over again nationally, and we were portrayed as troglodytes," she said. "That's not what we're about, but that became the narrative and the Democrats played that brilliantly."
Stickan wishes more people would pay attention to strength of women in the GOP.
"I think there's this perception that Republicans don't engage women enough, or that we're not listening to women," she says. "I've been talked to and listened to by many campaigns. You may have someone who goes out there and makes a comment, and just because he's one person doesn't mean he speaks for the whole party."
Moreover, she adds, the party has a good bench, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and others at local levels.
"We have some amazing candidates being elected all over the country. I think it's important to showcase them," she says.
One of those women, Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama, gave a stemwinder at a convention lunch. The 36-year-old Roby, a Young Republican herself, exhorted her listeners to push their way to the front.
"Now, more than ever, our party needs bright young people engaged in meaningful conversation, with fresh ways to implement our conservative ideas," she said. "Now is your turn."
In an interview later, Roby reiterated her hope that more young Republicans will get involved, but emphasized that she sees the problem to be less a matter of Republican principles than Republican messaging.