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Mitt Romney: What young Republicans learned from his campaign

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Weingartner said House Republicans, who won't pass the Democratic-led Senate's version of an immigration overhaul, should pass their own version that at least "streamlines and expands" legal slots for foreign students and workers.

For now, he said, that would sidestep Republicans who demand border security and Democrats who demand a citizenship path for immigrants already in the country illegally.

On health care, Weingartner said that besides regularly voting to repeal Obama's law, the GOP should emphasize its own ideas such as buying insurance across state lines, while better explaining the Affordable Care Act's cost shift onto younger, healthy individuals.

On same-sex marriage and abortion, young GOP leaders say Republicans should tolerate a range of views, even while maintaining a socially conservative identity. Some of these activists say their party must tread lightly after the Supreme Court recently threw out the most powerful part of the Voting Rights Act, the law that became a major turning point in black Americans' struggle for equal rights and political power.

"We don't have to lose our principles," said Angel Garcia, who leads the Young Republicans in Chicago, Obama's hometown. "But we have to have a conversation on all these issues so we don't leave Democrats to say we're just old white men and racist, bigoted homophobes."

Chris Reid, a Birmingham, Ala., lawyer, said the GOP has to become more inclusive. "I get really sick listening to people say it's all or nothing in order to be a good Republican," he said.

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