* Republicans aim to broaden appeal among minorities, women
* Changes needed to win future elections, Republicans say
* Leaders vow to improve technology, voter turnout efforts
By John Whitesides
CHARLOTTE, N.C., Jan 25 Bruised and divided by
November's election losses, Republican leaders emerged from a
series of self-analysis and strategy sessions this week with the
outlines of a game plan to reverse voting trends that favor
After a frank assessment of the party's shortcomings, state
and national officials at the Republican National Committee's
winter meetings vowed, above all, to improve the image of a
party that they acknowledge is seen as unwelcoming - or even
hostile - to single women and the nation's growing minority
"You are going to see a very aggressive effort by this party
to put on a different face," said Sally Bradshaw, a Florida
political strategist and one of five party leaders on a panel
that will study how Republicans can refurbish their image.
There were closed-door strategy sessions on using technology
to counter Democrats' sophisticated methods of identifying
potential supporters and getting them to vote.
Republican leaders also examined how to improve
communications with grass-roots activists who are the backbone
of national and local campaigns, and on how to cast the party's
conservative message in more appealing ways.
But the underlying message in the meetings was the challenge
that Republicans face in broadening the appeal of a divided
party with lingering image problems and declining support among
single women, Hispanics and blacks.
Those voting groups helped to carry Democratic President
Barack Obama to victory over Republican Mitt Romney in the
November elections. Republicans also lost seats in both chambers
of Congress, where Democrats control the Senate and Republicans
lead the House.
Romney carried most of the white vote, which makes up about
72 percent of the U.S. electorate. But he was blown out by Obama
in the scramble for minority and single-women voters in
The election followed a bitter campaign that was marked by
sometimes incendiary rhetoric from Republican candidates that
turned off many voters, especially women and minorities.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's secretly
recorded comment about the "47 percent" of voters who were
government-dependent and would not back him, along with
insensitive comments about rape by two Republicans running for
the Senate, helped to foster the notion that the party was an
out-of-touch bastion of older white males.
There also were comments by various Republican candidates -
including Romney - that were viewed as particularly hard-line
against illegal immigrants. Those remarks hurt Republicans among
many Hispanic voters.
In Charlotte, Republican leaders said they recognize that
they have some rebuilding to do.
"It's not a particularly complicated formula: We got beat,
so we have to change what we're doing," said Bradshaw, a close
ally of former Florida governor Jeb Bush. "You can't do the same
thing over and over again and expect to be successful the next
'ANGER AS A HABIT'
For Republicans, the challenge will be significant.
Polls continue to indicate that the nation's fast-growing
minority communities favor Democrats over Republicans - and that
nearly half of Americans have a negative view of the Republican
For some Republicans, the formula to success among
minorities boils down to a few principles: give the party a
friendlier face, emphasize the virtue of conservative values,
and have a platform on immigration that is seen as welcoming,
not overly harsh.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who led a strategy
session called "Messaging Matters," said the party could learn
from what he called former president Ronald Reagan's happy and
"We value anger as a habit," Gingrich said of Republicans,
adding such a tone has hurt the party in its policy and
political struggles with the popular Obama.
"We will win that argument better if we're in the Reagan
tradition of happy warriors than if we are in the tradition of
some of our candidates, who have been at best dour," he told
State officials from across the nation said the party should
not abandon its conservative proposals for reduced government
spending and stronger economic growth, but needed to articulate
"We have to look at everything, from the way we deliver the
message to the way candidates are trained," said Roger Villere,
Louisiana state chairman.
REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
But some policy adjustments could be required, including
support for new immigration measures to appeal to Hispanics.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is preparing an
immigration plan in Congress, and Jeb Bush argued in a Wall
Street Journal column on Friday for a broad approach that would
help give illegal immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship.
That proposal will be opposed by some of the party's
conservative and Tea Party factions, which have been successful
in challenging establishment Republicans in primaries only to
see their more ideological candidates lose to Democrats in the
But Republicans said there were still reasons for long-term
optimism. Politics is cyclical, and Democrats have faced their
own dark days after disappointing election losses in 1988 and
The party also still has a healthy outlook in many states,
where there are 30 Republican governors. And there is a crop of
young Republican lawmakers rising out of the statehouses - some
with an eye on running for Congress as soon as 2014, or
president as soon as 2016.
One of the Republican governors seen as a potential
candidate for the White House, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, gave
the meeting's keynote address on Thursday night and offered a
blistering critique of the party. He said it was too focused on
Washington-based budget battles and too insular to reach out to
Jindal offered a list of political changes that he said
Republicans should make before the next election, including
suggestions such as, "Stop looking backward," and, "Compete for
every single vote."
"The time for gnashing our teeth is over. Now we have some
work to do," said Will Deschamps, state chairman in Montana. "We
need a message that lets people know we care about them. We need
to convince people that we are the party that can improve their
way of life."
(Editing by David Lindsey and Eric Walsh)