GOP To 'Aggressively Court' Minority Voters

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GOP leaders are in Charlotte, North Carolina, trying to map out a comeback from the drubbing they took in the November elections. The Republican National Committee says it will not abandon core conservative principles. But party officials are looking to attract Latinos and other minority voters, along with young people.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Ever since they lost so badly in November, Republican leaders have done some soul searching. Now they're gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina to map out a comeback. The Republican National Committee has said it will not abandon core conservative principles but party officials are looking for ways to attract Latinos and other minority voters and young people, or else risk long-term trouble in future elections. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports from Charlotte.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The frustration is visible here at the RNC winter meeting. When the 2012 campaign began, there was an expectation by the party that they'd win the White House and retake control of the U.S. Senate. They fell far short in each case. So a committee set up by RNC chairman Reince Priebus is studying what went wrong and how to fix it.

Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary to President George W. Bush is one of five co-chairs on the panel. He said the GOP has a demographic problem, certainly, as the nation becomes more diverse and the party core remains white voters. But he says, there is also a serious image problem.

ARI FLEISCHER: The fact that people look at the Republican Party and say I don't think that this party wants me - that's a real problem.

GONYEA: That's particularly true of young voters who tend to be more liberal on social issues such as same-sex marriage, which the Republican Party opposes. Fleischer and the others on what has been named the Growth and Opportunity Project, held a closed-door meeting with RNC members yesterday. Afterward they held a news conference. Co-chair Sally Bradshaw is a Florida Republican strategist.

SALLY BRADSHAW: Losing is not fun. We want to win. And every person in that room gets it.

GONYEA: Their work is in its early stages, but she said one thing that will change is that Republicans will aggressively court the votes of minorities and others that in recent years, they simply assumed wouldn't listen to a pitch from the GOP.

BRADSHAW: We are going to go into areas that we do not typically go into and seek votes that we do not typically seek. We have lost our way on personal contact and, you know, I don't want to bias the report before it is written, but I think one consistent thing we hear is we have to do a much better job going into communities to make a much better case about why we want you in our party.

GONYEA: The committee won't be making policy recommendations. But it will talk about changing the tone of GOP campaigns and about messaging. There will also be a focus on social media and technology to improve a grassroots operation that lags well behind Democrats. The dinner speaker last night was a governor seen as a potential future standard bearer for the party - Louisiana's Bobby Jindal.


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL: Thank y'all very, very much. Thank you for that very warm welcome. Thank you.

GONYEA: Jindal said the party's conservative values will be a mainstay.


JINDAL: No, the Republican Party does not need to change our principles. But we might need to change just about everything else we are doing.

GONYEA: Jindal, who is himself a minority - his parents came here from India - rejected the notion that demographic changes in the U.S. automatically spell trouble for the GOP.


JINDAL: We must treat all people as individuals rather than as members of special interest groups.

GONYEA: And he promised tough talk in his speech.


JINDAL: We've got to stop being the stupid party.

GONYEA: That prompted some muted laughter.


JINDAL: It's time for us to articulate our plans and visions for America in real terms. It's no secret we had a number of Republicans that damaged the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I'm here to say we've had enough of that.

GONYEA: Jindal was referring there to comments about rape made by GOP candidates for Senate last year. Some RNC members here said the party is not in crisis mode. Though they welcome an assessment of what went wrong in 2012, they predict they'll bounce back. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Charlotte.

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