"The GOP has this tag on it that says rich, old, white man. They need to send a better message," said Johnson, a high school senior and president of Young Republican club at Washington's National Cathedral School.
Alec Jones, 23, a senior at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., said the party needs a "mix of pragmatism and principles" and a renewed focus on civil liberties and economic issues that resonate not only with Republicans but also "disgruntled Democrats."
Jones, who wore a red "Stand With Rand" sticker on the coat of his lapel, said young GOP leaders like Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas offer a fresh approach, but he cautioned that the party can't rely solely on attractive candidates.
"We can't put all of our stock in candidates because we've done that in the past and lost big," Jones said, pointing to a need for a "re-establishment of who we are as a party."
"In a lot of ways, Barack Obama is one of the best things that happened to the Republican Party because he's forced us to reassess who we are and where we're going," Jones said.
Down the hallway, 60-year-old Eileen Beamer, of Virginia, said she's looking for a Republican leader who focuses more on solutions and less on criticizing Obama.
"We have to give people a reason to join the party," she said.
Like others here, she's reluctant to support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but she also faults the Romney campaign for not doing enough to connect with minority groups. Above all, she says Romney didn't fight hard enough.
"He was too nice a guy," she said.
Fischer, of South Dakota, said the new generation of conservative leaders offers cause for optimism.
"The Republican Party is the conservative party. They may be a little disheartened. But they're ready to fight," he said.
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas and Steve Peoples http://twitter.com/sppeoples
CPAC 2013: http://conservative.org/cpac/
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.