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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

March 18, 2013 at 2:54 PM

Will GOP makeover plan help party in Washington?

The Republican National Committee today released a lengthy report recommending ways to turn around the GOP image and renew its national electoral prospects following a bruising 2012 election.

The 100-page report, commissioned by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, does a fair amount of self-flagellation, noting the GOP’s loss of the popular presidential vote in five of the last six elections. It blames, in part, an insular and stale circle that has left the party “talking to itself” and failing to reach out to independents:

“We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Of particular interest locally, the report suggests Republicans should make more of an effort to compete in traditionally blue states.

It specifically pledges the RNC to making, by June 15, “an investment in field staff beyond traditional battleground states.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Washington will become a major Republican target.

The report suggests the GOP concentrate its rebuilding efforts on states with Republican governors, where the party has a built-in “infrastructure advantage.” But with Rob McKenna’s loss last year, the GOP has been shut out of the Washington governor’s office for three decades.

State GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur praised the report, saying he believes Priebus, as a former Wisconsin state Republican chairman, is particularly keen on helping state parties. Wilbur previously has blamed the lack of help from the RNC with contributing to the state GOP’s dismal results in the 2012 election.

Wilbur said he hopes the Republican rebuilding effort – which will include a concentration on better polling, data and coordination between the state and national GOP — will have spillover benefits in Washington. He likened it to a similar effort launched by the Democrats a decade ago, when DNC Chairman Howard Dean launched a “50 State Strategy” to compete even in Republican strongholds.

Wilbur said he agrees with the central thrust of the new report: that Republicans concentrate on a message of optimism and economic opportunity.

“We don’t have to change our message. We have to change how we present it,” Wilbur said.

Wilbur disagreed with one recommendation: the report suggests the Republican Party should use primaries — not caucuses — for picking delegates in the presidential race. Wilbur said he favors retaining Washington’s caucus system because it encourages more active participation and helps build the GOP volunteer base.

The document recommends a host of changes aimed at improving outreach to more voters — particularly women, youths and minorities who have been turned off by the GOP’s uncaring, fuddy duddy image.

Among the prescriptions: create an “RNC Celebrity Task Force” of Republican movie stars and musicians (presumably besides Ted Nugent) to appeal to the younger crowd; hiring more minority spokespersons and political directors in key states and altering the “tone” of the party message on topics like immigration to one of “tolerance and respect.”

“We’re the party of the American dream for everybody. We should be stressing that,” Wilbur said.

Jaxon Ravens, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said the makeover could aid Republicans in Washington if it boosts investment in the state party. But he said tactical changes won’t necessarily be enough repair the GOP’s image.

“I think it’s going to take more than advertising and infrastructure for them to really reach voters,” he said. “They need to think about their messaging and their true values.”

Comments | More in Politics Northwest | Topics: Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee


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