At the Republican National Committee's winter meeting this week in
Washington, it was clear the panic that hit the party after the 2012
elections has subsided, although polls indicate that efforts to make
the party more attractive to single women, minorities and gays,
groups that favor Democrats by big numbers, have not made any
Many Republicans remain concerned about the party's long-term
prospects in the face of such problems, but they have been heartened
by the troubled launch of Obama's healthcare overhaul and by polls
that suggest Obama's Democrats are not much more popular than
So in many ways, this week's meeting of Republican officials has
been an affirmation of the party's reluctance to change its core
strategies for the 2014 midterm elections: Opposition to abortion
and an assault on Obamacare, as the president's healthcare overhaul
It is a familiar platform that analysts say represents the influence
of the most conservative elements of a party that continues to be
plagued by bitter infighting between compromise-resistant Tea Party
conservatives and more pragmatic "establishment" Republicans.
The focus on abortion and Obamacare, analysts say, also could
undermine Republican efforts to lure women and minority voters who
strongly support abortion rights and Obama's efforts to help
millions of uninsured Americans get health coverage.
"There hasn't been any significant rebranding for Republicans. When
the goals of rebranding have been largely ignored by major figures
in the party, you have to be a little skeptical," said political
analyst Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.
On Capitol Hill, a sweeping immigration overhaul that some
Republican officials hoped would help the party gain ground with the
nation's rapidly growing Hispanic community, which overwhelmingly
backed Obama in 2012, has been blocked by conservative Republicans
in the House of Representatives who are wary of giving millions of
undocumented immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship.
Republican officials say they do not believe their stances on issues
such as immigration and abortion have harmed the party, but that
some Republican candidates' inability to clearly and sensitively
express their views on such subjects has hurt.
"We don't need to move away from our core values. We need to more
clearly communicate those values," said Kris Warner, an RNC member
from West Virginia.
A NEW CONTROVERSY
Republican efforts to attract women voters also continue to be
complicated by indelicate rhetoric.
During a speech before the RNC on Thursday, former Arkansas governor
and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called on Republicans to
aggressively argue to women voters that they are not "weaklings" who
need to rely on the government for help.
In doing so, he served up the latest sound bite for Democrats who
accuse Republicans of waging a "war on women."
Arguing against government-funded birth control, Huckabee accused
Democrats of telling women that, "they are helpless without Uncle
Sugar coming in and providing them for them a prescription each
month for birth control because they cannot control their libido."
Leading Democrats quickly pounced. They said Huckabee's comments
reminded them of the 2012 campaign, when insensitive remarks about
rape by two Republicans running for the U.S. Senate fueled
Democrats' claims that the Republican Party was an out-of-touch
bastion of older white males.
"Mike Huckabee has no idea what he's talking about," Democratic
National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said. "If
this is the (Republican) rebrand a year later, then all they've
gotten is a year older."
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Huckabee's comments followed a recent controversy over a memoir by
Republican Representative Steve Pearce of New Mexico, who wrote that
a wife should "voluntarily submit" to her husband, although that
does not make her inferior.
Steve Munisteri, the state Republican chairman in Texas, said
Republican candidates still need to watch the way they talk about
"The party still has a problem with people who don't understand that
how you say things can turn people off. Your tone matters. We have a
multi-cultural society, and people have to believe you want them in
your party," he said.
The Republican House and Senate campaign committees have organized
sessions with candidates and staff to teach them how to address
controversial topics and avoid such self-inflicted wounds, officials
At the same time, the party is signaling it will be more aggressive
in pressing for abortion restrictions, even though surveys have long
shown that a majority of Americans support abortion rights.
On Wednesday, the party sent two bus loads of RNC members to attend
the anti-abortion "March for Life" on the National Mall in
Washington. RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said the party needed
to "get back on offense" in fighting abortion.
"GOOD THINGS HAPPENING"
So far, the Republican effort to reach out to women, minorities and
other Democratic voting blocs has involved adjusting tactics more
than changing the party's platform.
The RNC has added more than 175 staff members to organize at the
state level and reach out to black, Asian and Hispanic voters, party
The party also has hired technology specialists and opened an office
in California's Silicon Valley to counter the Democrats' data-driven
voter turnout operation.
Still, polls indicate that more than half of Americans view the
Republican Party unfavorably, a trend that does not bode well for a
party that has lost the popular vote in five of the last six
The RNC is expected to adopt rules changes to shorten its
presidential primary season in 2016 and move the party's nominating
convention from late August to June or July.
Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada would retain their
right to kick off the process in February 2016, and the rest of the
contests would be held between March and May.
The changes could make it more difficult for surprise contenders to
emerge, but would help limit a combative presidential primary
process that many Republicans blame for weakening party nominee Mitt
Romney in 2012.
"We feel like there are some good things happening now," said Shawn
Steel, an RNC member from California. "We are going into communities
that have never heard the Republican message, and we're finding good
(Editing by David Lindsey and Andre Grenon)
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