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Republicans Look for Rising Stars to Shape Party's Future

The Republican Party's doors are open to a new generation of leaders as it regroups and re-evaluates its message in the wake of Tuesday night's crushing defeat at the polls.

But what that generation should espouse remains up for negotiation.

"There's always a period of introspection after a loss, as there should be. We need to go back to square one and review our message, the values we communicate and the messengers we choose to communicate them," Republican pollster Whit Ayres said.

"I think we have to have a bunch of smart people reflecting on these results," he said.

While the Republican Party may need to return to the ideas of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan to center itself, the party's next generation of leaders doesn't look like its father's GOP.

Tomorrow's party leaders defy stereotypes and may seem counterintuitive, said Republican strategist Margaret Hoover. "We're not the old wrinkly guy party anymore.

"We definitely need some fresh leadership and some fresh faces," Hoover said. "Even on taxes, Barack Obama's tax message got more traction with Americans, so clearly we're not doing something right. The wilderness isn't a bad place to be."

Strategists say the party should look to its governors to guide its future, especially Sarah Palin.

"The majority of the most popular governors in the country are Republicans, even in this toxic atmosphere nationally for Republicans," said Ayres.

"I think Palin is clearly a part of the conversation, but we've also got rising stars like Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota and Charlie Crist in Florida," Ayres said.

"These are people who have been very successful governors and are very bright popular leaders in their states and an obvious source of talent for the next generation of Republican leadership."

Jindal, 37, is the first Indian-American governor ever in the U.S., and Pawlenty, 47, was thought to be on John McCain's short-list of potential vice presidential picks prior to his selection of Palin. Crist, 52, was Florida's attorney general before being elected governor in 2006.

Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, 45, a fiscal conservative from Richmond, is another one to watch.

"He's fascinating," Hoover said. 

Cantor, chief deputy House minority whip since early 2003, intends to run for minority whip, FOX News has learned, moving up the ladder of seniority. It is unclear whether the current GOP whip, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, will seek re-election to his party post.

The House minority leader, Ohio Rep. John Boehner, 59, said Tuesday that he will seek re-election to his post.

But old guard conservatives warn that unless Republican congressional leaders return to their roots, they have no place in the leadership.

They have "failed their party, they have failed the conservatives who make up their party's base, and they have failed the American people. They should resign immediately," Richard A. Viguerie, Chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, said in a statement Wednesday.

""Not one cent, and not one minute of volunteer work, should go to the Republican Party until the congressional leadership is replaced with principled conservatives. These leaders still don't understand why the voters have rejected them, and they won't 'get it' until conservatives hit them where it hurts," he said.

But Hoover said conservatives need to find new ways to address the challenges. One Republican on Hoover's short list of creative thinkers is Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, 38.

"He's the only guy I know of that's putting forth a health care blueprint," Hoover said. "Americans mostly don't want lower taxes. The reason why is they don't feel like the Bush tax cuts were worth it."

GOPAC Chairman and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele said Republicans need to get back to the basics and focus on the issues that made them popular during the Reagan years.

"We are a conservative party. We should be proud of that fact. We should not get mired and lost in adding a whole lot to it," Steele said.

"I think Reagan spoke very clearly to that which is why he was able to make conservatism cool. It was a cool thing to be a conservative and I think that is something we kind of lost sight of. We loaded it up with all kinds of things that probably weighed us down, and people didn't want to carry as baggage," he said. "No one wants to be judged by a political party."

Steele said Palin, former White House budget chief Rob Portman, 52, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, 48, will help the party move forward.

"We have a phenomenal farm team, we just never developed it. We never groomed it. And now its time to do that because these are the men and women that are going to have to step up for us and reconnect with the American people," he said.