Referring to the state party's deep losses in recent years, Rove said it needs to focus on larger themes of restoring jobs and reducing government spending. But he also said the party must recruit candidates who reflect the diversity of the country, and in particular California.
By next year, Hispanics will overtake whites as the state's largest demographic group.
"We need to be asking for votes in the most powerful way possible, which is to have people asking for the vote who are comfortable and look like and sound like the people that we're asking for the vote from," Rove said.
His message to delegates, activists and local party officials from throughout California was in line with the philosophy behind a new political action committee he is starting, the Conservative Victory Project. The committee was established to support Republican candidates it deems electable, offsetting GOP candidates who might offend key parts of the electorate.
Rove told activists at the Republican Party's spring convention in Sacramento that rebuilding would be "a big task," but noted the example of Texas. Once a Democratic stronghold, the state elected Republicans to 95 of 150 state House seats in November. Democrats have not won a statewide office in Texas since 1994.
Republicans hold the opposite status in California, where Democrats won supermajorities in the Legislature last fall and hold every statewide office. The GOP accounts for less than 30 percent of the state's voters and has been losing favor with Latinos, women and younger votes.
The former aide to former President George W. Bush acknowledged that Republicans are "not exactly in the best place" in California. He said he believes the state party can regain ground if its members "take the values that we have and go sell them as hard as you can."
Rove said rebuilding the California Republican Party could be so tough that party activists might choose to continue on their current path.
"Or you can get up off of the mat and throw yourself back into this contest," he said. "Think smart, be active, be committed, rebuild the organization, ask for the vote in the right way, and speak boldly and proudly about our universal principles in a way that attracts support of your fellow Californians."
Rove appeared at the convention as a favor to former state Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte, a longtime friend who is expected to be elected as the state party's new chairman on Sunday.
His suggestions on expanding the types of candidates being fielded struck a chord with Tyson Greaves, 63, of San Jose, who said pushing for diversity within the party is crucial.
"It's pretty clear to me that you don't have authenticity or credibility in a community if you show up only in an election cycle," he said.
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