In front of 1,000 Republicans gathered in Bloomington Friday, GOP strategist Karl Rove let loose on President Obama, accusing him of being petty, petulant and despicable.

But Rove also told the activists gathered at the Midwest Leadership Conference that bashing the president alone will not win elections. Republicans must also put forward "some positive ideas" of their own, he said kicking off a two-day conference.

The 1,000 Republican heavyweights and activists joined to hear some of those ideas and define the party for the high-octane fight in 2012.

The GOP has some heady material to work with. Voters, worried about the economy that shows few signs of progress, are unhappy with Congress, disapprove of Obama's performance and want something different from what they have, polls indicate.

"Voters are angry, voters are frustrated, voters quite frankly are scared to death," said national Republican pollster Ed Goeas.

Across town, protesters expressed their discomfort by camping out in front of Hennepin County Government Center as part of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement.

At the Bloomington hall, the answer was sharply different.

"Because of you, I don't have to spend my Friday afternoon with 1,000 or so clueless, obnoxious and frankly, very messy anarchists or socialists ... or whatever they call themselves. Instead, I get to spend my Friday with 1,000 or so patriots," said Hennepin County Commissioner and Republican National Committeeman Jeff Johnson.

But Republicans heard that contrast is not enough.

"We have a road map for victory," said Goeas. "We have an opportunity to not be Democrat-lite ... we really have an opportunity to make this an election about our principles."

Along with learning about how to run the guts of campaigns, Republicans Friday also turned to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to hear his message of change.

After his election last year, Walker immediately set about changing the state's relationship with unions and overhauling the state's budget. That set off weeks of uproar and protest that reverberated across the nation. Amid the turmoil, the changes passed.

Now, Walker said in a repeated mantra: "Our reforms are working."

Although two Republicans lost recall elections after the divisive fight, it was worth it, he said.

"We will make our schools and our government run better. That is the greatest long-term legacy our reforms bring about," said Walker. "It's important all across America. ... It is about charting a new course of history."

For the Republicans from across the Midwest, the new course includes a turn to the right where establishment Republicans welcome the Tea Party movement, who were considered the upstart outsiders a few years ago, with open arms.

"Where I am, we might as well be the Tea Party also," said Channing Stowell, vice chair of Minnesota's Todd County Republicans.

Another sign: Libertarian-leaning Republican Ron Paul's presidential campaign, nearly dismissed by the GOP in 2008, was the only campaign to staff a table at the conference.

The presence may have an impact. On Saturday, the conference will hold a presidential straw poll. Sherald Ward, who staffed the Paul table, said he talked to an attendee who was vacillating between Paul and Herman Cain, who won a recent straw poll in Florida. The delegate told Ward he will support Paul because his campaign "took the time" to be at the conference.

The party, Ward said, is ready for Paul. "The other candidates," he said, "are all moving in his direction."

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb