Emboldened by Wisconsin victory, 2,000 conservative activists set to gather in Chicago

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's victory Tuesday in the state's recall election arrived at an opportune time for Midwestern Republicans, who on Friday will meet 125 miles southeast of the Wisconsin capital for a day-long gathering of more than 2,000 conservative activists.

The American Conservative Union, known for organizing CPAC, the largest annual meeting of conservatives in the country in Washington, D.C., will hold its second regional conference just outside Chicago, home to President Barack Obama and one of the most reliably Democratic areas of the country. The theme of the gathering is "Take Back the Midwest," and Walker's success undoubtedly will offer significant encouragement for attendees who view the area as an important battleground for Republicans in November.

"I think it will undoubtedly add a dash of passion," ACU Chairman Al Cardenas told Yahoo News, referring to the Republican victory. "Remember this is the Midwest, where conservatives felt that they've lost more than they've won over the past couple of decades, so it's an infusion of hope and optimism without a doubt."

While the ACU held its first regional event in central Florida last year--unquestionably friendlier territory for Republicans--conference organizers say the decision to meet in Chicago is an early step to making inroads in the Midwest, a battleground region with a strong union presence. (One afternoon panel, for instance, is titled, "Waking Goliath: The Midwest Stands Up to Union Special Interests.")

But despite the blue hue of Chicago and many urban areas in surrounding states, tea party Republicans claim a few recent scalps that they say could be a sign changing times. They point to John Kasich's rise to the governorship in Ohio in 2010, Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock's victory over moderate Sen. Richard Lugar in May and, of course, Walker's triumph earlier this week.

"A lot of the exciting things that are happening to conservatives are happening in the Midwest," Cardenas said. "What better place to go than the president's own backyard?"

The packed schedule for the event includes speeches from a handful of possible Republican vice presidential contenders, including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, as well as appearances by former Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain.

As for whether any attendees were intending to visit Obama's campaign headquarters in downtown Chicago, Cardena said there was nothing officially planned.

"We certainly haven't planned any of that, but you know, activists are activists," he said.