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FILE - This Nov. 7, 2012 file photo shows then-Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney taking the stage to concede his quest for president, at the Boston Convention Center in Boston. The Grand Old Party needs to get with the times. That's according to many Republicans who talked of the party's challenges following the GOP's electoral shellacking. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Republicans: GOP needs to get with the times
First Published Nov 17 2012 08:07 pm • Last Updated Nov 17 2012 08:10 pm

Washington » To hear some Republicans tell it, the Grand Old Party needs to get with the times.

Some of the early prescriptions offered by officials and operatives to rebuild after devastating elections: retool the party message to appeal to Latinos, women and working-class people; upgrade antiquated get-out-the-vote systems with the latest technology. Teach candidates how to handle the new media landscape.

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From longtime GOP luminaries to the party’s rising stars, almost everyone asked about the Republicans’ Nov. 6 election drubbing seems to agree that a wholesale update is necessary for a party that appears to be running years behind Democrats in adapting to rapidly changing campaigns and an evolving electorate.

Interviews with more than a dozen Republicans at all levels of the party indicated that postelection soul-searching must quickly turn into a period of action.

"We’ve got to have a very brutally honest review from stem to stern of what we did and what we didn’t do, and what worked and what failed," said former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who ran the party in the 1990s.

The party "has to modernize in a whole wide range of ways," added former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who ran against White House nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential primary. "We were clearly wrong on a whole range of fronts."

To determine what went wrong, the Republican National Committee is examining every detail of the 2012 elections, with the goal of rebuilding the party for the future — much as the Democratic Party did in the 1980s after suffering a series of stinging losses at all levels of government.

Now, as was the case back then, the stakes are enormous for the party that failed to win the White House and has lost the popular vote for several national elections in a row. They’re perhaps even higher for Republicans grappling for ways to court a rapidly changing electorate whose voting groups don’t naturally gravitate toward the GOP. The dangers of failing to act could be severe: permanent minority status.

So it’s little surprise that after the election, some Republicans were quick to sound stark warnings.

The scale of the losses largely shocked a party whose top-shelf operatives went into Election Day believing Republicans had at least a decent chance of capturing the White House and gaining ground in Congress, where Republicans controlled the House and had a sizable minority in the Senate.


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Instead, Romney lost all but one of the nine contested states, North Carolina, to President Barack Obama and was trounced in the electoral vote. Republicans also lost ground to Democrats in both houses of Congress, though Republicans retained their House majority.

How to move forward dominated the discussions at last week’s Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas, where some of the party’s leading voices castigated Romney’s assessment — made in what was supposed to be a private telephone call to donors — that Obama won re-election because of the "gifts" the president had provided to blacks, Hispanics and young voters. These governors faulted Romney.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal attributed Romney’s loss to a lack of "a specific vision that connected with the American people."

Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who describes himself as a "pro-choice moderate Republican," echoed Republicans across the spectrum when he said last week: "We need to be a larger-tent party." Brown lost his seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Across the board, Republicans say that arguably the most urgent task facing the party is changing its attitude about immigration as it looks to woo Hispanics. This rapidly growing group voted overwhelmingly for Obama, by margins of 7-to-1 over Romney, who had shifted to the right on the issue during the GOP primary.

It didn’t take long after the election for even staunch conservatives to start changing their tune on immigration. Days after the election, even conservative TV host Sean Hannity said he would support an immigration bill.

Said Barbour: "If we would be for good economic policy in terms of immigration, that would go a long way toward solving the political problem."

It’s not just Hispanics.

Republicans said they also have work to do with single women and younger voters, many of whom tend to be more liberal on social issues than the current Republican Party. These Republicans said a change in tone is needed, though not a change in principles such as opposition to abortion.

"We need to make sure that we’re not perceived as intolerant," said Ron Kaufman, a veteran Republican strategist who advised Romney’s campaign. "The bottom line is we were perceived to be intolerant on some issues. And tone-deaf on others."

Republicans also said the party has to work on its relationship with working-class voters.

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