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For GOP Comeback, Leaders Urge Stepped-Up Outreach

By Don Gonyea | NPR
Saturday, January 26, 2013

In their first big party gathering since Election Day, Republican leaders from around the country met in Charlotte, N.C., this week.

The GOP is promising a great deal of change in advance of the next election, but one area where there will be no change for the party is in its leadership. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was elected to another two-year term.

In his acceptance speech, he cited a simple reason why Republicans failed to win the White House and lost seats in the House and Senate in November.

"I'm no math whiz; I'm an attorney. But I don't need a calculator to know that we need to win more votes," he said. "We have to find more supporters. We have to go places we haven't been, and we have to invite new people to join us."

Priebus has set up a special panel to make recommendations toward that goal. Party leaders insist that their conservative philosophy will not change. That's not the problem, they say.

Rather, it's that they lag behind Democrats in technology and organizing and that the GOP has not treated certain categories of voters well, using a tone during campaigns that is off-putting.

"We have to build better relationships in minority communities, urban centers, college towns," Priebus said. "We need a permanent, growing presence."

Priebus' co-chair, Sharon Day, who was also re-elected, made the same point in a lighter way.

"I will talk to a head of lettuce if I can get them to vote Republican," she said. "We have to reach out, as the chairman said, with our programs to make sure that we reach every single voter."

It remains to be seen exactly how Republicans will reach some of the voters they've had the hardest time attracting. Most analysts say it wasn't the party's tone but its immigration policy that led more than 7 in 10 Latino and Asian-American voters to support President Obama in November.

The party has also shown a tendency in recent years to seek redemption in process and rule changes, such as voter ID laws and other challenges at the ballot box.

Just this week in Virginia, Republican state legislators have been pushing a change in the way the state allocates its vote in the Electoral College. Instead of giving all the electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote statewide, as Virginia and 47 other states do now, this plan would give one electoral vote to each congressional district. It would give the state's two other electoral votes to the presidential candidate who won the most congressional districts.

By this system, Obama would have received just three out of 13 electoral votes in Virginia, even though he won the state with an outright majority.

Priebus was asked about the Virginia plan at his news conference Friday.

"I think it's something that a lot of states are looking at, and I think, in some cases, they should look at it," he said. "I think it's a state issue, but personally I'm pretty intrigued by it."

The issue also caught the attention of Rep. Gerald Connolly, one of Virginia's three Democratic congressmen.

"What they're doing here is actually challenging the will of the people — by hook or by crook — because they can't win an election outright, so they have to cheat," he said. "That's disgusting."

Priebus said such a plan would still be fair because candidates would still have to compete — they'd just have to do so one district at a time instead of statewide.

Meanwhile, in Richmond, Gov. Bob McDonnell's office told reporters he thought the state's existing electoral system "works just fine."

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