DENVER — This isn't an election year, but you wouldn't know it from the number of potential Republican presidential candidates rubbing shoulders in swing-state Colorado this weekend.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker spoke Friday at the annual Western Conservative Summit at the Denver Hyatt Regency, insisting that Republicans don't need to change their political positions in response to President Obama's reelection win in 2012, just their approach.
"There's no doubt that if you are focused on an optimistic, relevant and courageous message, you can not only win, but more important, you can govern," said Mr. Walker.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and ex-Rep. Allen West of Florida are also scheduled to speak over the weekend at the red-meat conservative gathering sponsored by the Centennial Institute, which drew a record 2,000 attendees in its fourth year.
Before headlining the Denver event, Mr. Walker appeared on a panel of Republican governors Thursday at the Aspen Institute along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
Mr. Christie made headlines at the forum when he took a jab at Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another oft-mentioned possible GOP presidential candidate, as part of their ongoing feud over security versus liberty.
"This strain of libertarianism that's going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought," said Mr. Christie. "You can name any number of people and [Mr. Paul] is one of them."
Democrats have dominated Colorado politics in the last few election cycles, but Mr. Walker said there's no reason Republicans can't reverse the trend with the right message. He pointed out that Democrats looked unbeatable in Wisconsin, which he described as "the home of the progressive movement," until 2010.
"In my state of Wisconsin a few years ago, everything was blue," said Mr. Walker. "Everything flipped after the November '10 election."
Mr. Walker, who survived a recall election brought by Democrats and labor unions in 2012, pointed out that even though Democrats control the White House and Senate, Republicans hold 30 governorships and majorities in 27 state legislatures.
"As frustrated as we were by last year's presidential election, the reality is that real reform happens in the states," said Mr. Walker. "So as much as I want to see changes in Washington, and I'm going to continue to push for those, I'm optimistic about the future because I believe real reform happens in the states."
He said Republicans fell short in the last presidential election in part because they failed to draw crucial distinctions between liberalism and conservatism.
"I thought we missed an opportunity to explain the fundamental difference between the left and right," said Mr. Walker. "I think the president and his allies measure success by how many people are dependent on government. We as conservatives, we should measure success by just the opposite, by how many people are not dependent on government."
Mia Love, who gave a primetime address at the 2012 Republican National Convention, reinforced the GOP message of independence over dependence. The mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, Ms. Love is again running against Rep. Jim Matheson, Utah Democrat, after losing by a whisker in 2012.
"Let me tell you what their [liberals'] message is," said Ms. Love. "Their message is, 'The American dream is dead. It's over. The government is your solution. Give up your dreams.' . . . Not with my words, but with my life, I will show them that the American dream lives on."
The three-day Western Conservative Summit is slated to conclude Sunday with straw polls on both the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and the 2014 Colorado Republican gubernatorial nomination.
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