"There was nothing here, so we had to take advantage of some natural strengths," said Garcia, 39. That meant working the media, tapping into wealthy donors and getting the word out to transplants from elsewhere in the Midwest.
So the club did a marketing campaign, posting ads on mass transit, billboards, even in bar restrooms. During the 2012 presidential campaign, the group made a YouTube video -- a parody of "Call Me Maybe" -- that received more than 150,000 views and earned the club a mention on the Huffington Post. It has maintained aggressive Twitter and Flickr accounts. The club now has a mailing list of thousands.
"We literally said, 'You're not alone,'" Garcia says. "That was really the turning point."
The publicity was nothing new for Garcia, who likes the exposure. When the GOP needed a face to talk about Latino issues in Chicago, Garcia became the go-to guy. With his cleanly shaved head, nimble patter and ever-present cell phone, Garcia fits comfortably into a white-collar demographic; he's an MBA who spent several years at the Chicago Board of Trade before deciding to practice law.
But he has a classic immigrant story: His parents moved to the United States from Mexico in the early '70s for work in the steel mills along Lake Michigan, and his father later started an auto repair business. It was small-business issues that helped turn Garcia into a Republican, he says. He entered the law partly because he saw a niche for a Spanish-speaking attorney. He characterizes himself as a "neighborhood lawyer."
'An anti-, anti-, anti- image'
Many of the Latino Young Republicans -- a small but notable group at the convention -- talk about their membership with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they believe in the party's small-government, faith-and-family principles. On the other, they bristle at some of the anti-immigrant talk within the party.
Texas YR official Chris Carmona made the point explicitly at one breakout session. Thanks to party members' harsh words, Republicans are thought of in the Hispanic community as anti-immigrant, anti-family and anti-religious, he observes. "We have an anti-, anti-, anti- image of everything possible in the Hispanic community."
Texas delegate Artemio Muniz expands on that point. Muniz, a 32-year-old from Houston, is the son of illegal immigrants. His family was on welfare, sold chips at the ballpark and took items from trash bins to sell.
"We started at the bottom," he says. "We know what bootstrapping means." His parents were given amnesty as part of a 1986 immigration reform bill signed by Ronald Reagan.
He grimaces when he thinks about how some Republicans treat Latinos.
"I've been at Tea Party meetings where the lady is saying, 'Let's deport them all,' and the lady that's serving her is an illegal immigrant bringing her nacho chips."
But he became a Republican, he says, because the party represents promise. The Mexican community has pride, he says, and its beliefs fit with the conservatism of the Republican Party and its leaders.
"Reagan was a legit guy that understood the heart," he says. "(George W.) Bush as well. He understood. He had credibility. He was authentic. He knew the experience of being a Texan."
But the GOP has to recognize the problems of the working class, he says.
"It's like any other blue-collar neighborhood," he says. "It's not a Hispanic thing necessarily. Your guy that's living paycheck to paycheck can be any race, and here's a party saying we're going to cut programs. They want to know, what are you going to do to help the family? It's more of being in touch with hard-working people."
His YR colleague Garcia has mixed feelings about the congressional stalemate over the immigration reform bill, which was passed by the Senate in late June but is being held up in the House. He'd like to see a narrower bill, one that could get more Republican support. "Democrats moving the goalposts makes that less likely," he says.
But, he admits, Republicans still look bad.
"At the end of the day I'm a pragmatist, and I understand politics," he says. "And I think we've done a poor job framing the issue."
The 'Akin effect'
The communications problems also apply to women.
Christina Goodlander of the D.C. delegation summed up the issue in two words: "Akin effect" -- a reference to Todd Akin, the Missouri U.S. Senate candidate who made controversial comments about "legitimate rape" and pregnancy.
While noting that Akin's words were "pretty horrible," "those comments were played over and over again nationally, and we were portrayed as troglodytes," she said. "That's not what we're about, but that became the narrative and the Democrats played that brilliantly."
Stickan wishes more people would pay attention to strength of women in the GOP.
"I think there's this perception that Republicans don't engage women enough, or that we're not listening to women," she says. "I've been talked to and listened to by many campaigns. You may have someone who goes out there and makes a comment, and just because he's one person doesn't mean he speaks for the whole party."