Buoyed by Gov. Scott Walker's historic victory in Wisconsin this week, top conservatives took the stage in Rosemont Friday to urge a team effort as the Nov. 6 national election nears.
"This past Tuesday I was a cheesehead," cracked GOP Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam of Wheaton while noting he wasn't quite ready to become a Green Bay Packers fan.
Highlighting the party's ideals and successes, Roskam said Republicans have an opportunity to "invite people to come along with us on our journey," stressing "this is the way forward."
That means using various sectors of the conservative party -- from Tea Partyers to moderates -- in broadcasting a message that the country needs to return to Republican values, speakers at the conference said.
"We made a mistake after Ronald Reagan," Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said, adding the GOP must "never take anything for granted again."
But many of their overtures Friday were to a conservative constituency.
The Conservative Political Action Conference, the first of two regional events this year, is designed, according to organizers, to "take the fight of the future of America directly to President Obama's backyard."
Illinois' Democratic leadership, as well as the state's well-known budget problems, provided plenty of punch lines for speakers in the lineup.
"Is New Jersey the worst tax state in America?" Chris Christie, the governor of that state, asked the crowd. "Oh no. Every night I hit my knees and thank God for Gov. Pat Quinn in Illinois and Gov. (Jerry) Brown in California."
Members of the audience whooped, as they did later when Roskam, a former state lawmaker who represents the 6th Congressional District, suggested Democrats in Springfield were running the state like a "goat rodeo."
Drawing parallels between Illinois' fiscal situation and Obama's statement Friday that the private sector is "doing fine," Roskam suggested Democrats are out of touch. He predicted that Illinois Democrats -- who, as the party in charge, have drawn the 2012 congressional map in the hopes of picking up several congressional seats -- have "overreached."
The conservative audience heard over and over that more voters should be drawn to the Republican party.
Precisely how to do so was, perhaps, more murky.
Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, an alumnus of Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, announced the start of a new grass-roots effort, Patriot Voices, aimed at "those who are not part of the American narrative."
"The only way to unite America and start anew is to remember who we are," Santorum said.
"We are not an ethnicity. We are not a race. We are an ideal. ... We are a country founded on the idea of limited government," Santorum said, urging attendees to work to protect those rights.
Former presidential candidate Herman Cain of Georgia, at his first media appearance in Illinois since a scandal involving a suburban woman spurred his withdrawal from the GOP presidential race, called on Republicans not only to focus on the party's own base, but also to reach out to independents, people of faith and "weary Democrats."
Yet some people of faith were described as "radical enemies."
Minnesota Rep. and former Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann called on Obama to "shut down" an upcoming Islamic conference in Rolling Meadows because of possible terrorist connection.
"Obama is easily the most ... irresponsible president the nation has ever had on the issue of foreign policy," Bachmann said to a standing ovation.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was announced as the winner of the conference's vice presidential straw poll, with Christie coming in second and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan in third.
Freshman Congressmen Joe Walsh, a McHenry Tea Partyer, and Randy Hultgren, a Winfield resident, had some of the conference's final speaking slots, with Walsh urging the crowd to be "prepared to do everything" to save the country for their children and grandchildren.
"Folks, if you think this is just an election ... we have lost," Walsh said.
CPAC concluded as Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus took the stage in Tinley Park, headlining the Illinois GOP's two-day state convention.