After a painful election that left them with less political power than they have had for a generation, Republican activists met Saturday to figure out how to move forward.

The official gathering of several hundred party faithful was, said GOP operative Gregg Peppin, "a lick-your-wounds and pick-up-the-pieces meeting."

There are a lot of pieces to pick up.

Party officials at the Blaine meeting said they lag behind Democrats on using technology to their advantage, lacked a cohesive, saleable election message and, according to documents released Saturday, still have $1.5 million of debt they are slowly paying off.

"The balance sheet doesn't lie. We've got a long way to go. But it's better than it was," said Bron Scherer, the party's treasurer. The debt load is actually down from a high of about $1.8 million earlier this year.

Despite the problems, the party's central committee meeting largely lacked the rancor that has colored some recent party functions.

At the December meeting two years ago, with the support of then-chair Tony Sutton, activists moved to ban former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, former Gov. Arne Carlson and others from the party for two years because they had supported candidates running against the party's picks.

This year, an activist again proposed banishing Carlson. Carlson joined with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to oppose the Republican-backed voter ID ballot proposal and backed Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's Democratic opponent.

On Saturday, Republican Party chair Pat Shortridge said repeating that move would not be helpful.

"I think we should focus on attracting new people to the party, rather than trying to decide who is and who isn't a Republican," said Shortridge, who does not plan to run for re-election as party chair this spring.

He and others said Republicans need to focus on how to better deliver their message to provide a clear alternative to the Democrats in charge.

"We got our butts kicked this election," said deputy party chair Kelly Fenton. But, she said, the GOP must get back to work -- and quickly. "We need to stop sulking, stop feeling sorry for ourselves and stop pointing fingers," she said. "We need to get back on that horse, and we need to do it today. We've got a lot of work to do."

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, a Republican National Committee member, said although the party still has a "long slog" ahead to dig out from its financial hole, "people are ready to move on."

Moving on also means gearing up for the election 23 months away. In 2014, Dayton, Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and the entire slate of state constitutional officers will be up for re-election.

Except for Republican Randy Gilbert, who said he plans to run for state auditor in two years, no Republicans at the meeting firmly declared their intent to run. But that didn't keep people from talking about the possibilities.

On the list: incoming Senate Minority Leader David Hann. Hann, who briefly ran for governor in 2010, said he hasn't made any final decisions about whether he will run again. "You never say no to anything in politics," he said.

Johnson, the Hennepin County commissioner, has said he and his family need to decide whether he should run against Dayton.

And Bill Guidera, the party finance chair, did not say a run for governor or Senate was out of the question.

Instead, he said, "I haven't made any decisions on that sort of stuff."

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb