SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
President Obama took the oath of office this week and formally began his second term. And both parties are trying to get used to some new political realities. Republican leaders from around the country followed the inauguration this week with a meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, It was the first party gathering since Election Day. They re-elected their chairman and they vowed to try to change their tone and approach, but not Republican principles or policies.
NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea was at the meeting, and has our story.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: 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 has been 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 this past November.
REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: 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. 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.
GONYEA: Priebus has set up a special panel to make recommendations toward that goal. Party leaders insist 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.
Again, Chairman Priebus.
COMMITTEE: We have to build better relationships in minority communities, urban centers, college towns. We need a permanent, growing presence.
GONYEA: Also re-elected was Priebus' co-chair, Sharon Day, who was made the same point in a lighter way.
SHARON DAY: I will talk to a head of lettuce if I can get them to vote Republican.
DAY: We have to reach out, as the chairman said, with our programs to make sure that we reach every single voter.
GONYEA: It remains to be seen exactly how the GOP 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, in rules 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 also give the state's two other electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate 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 yesterday.
COMMITTEE: I think it's something that a lot of states are looking at. And I think, in some cases, they should look at it. But I think it's a state issue. But personally I'm pretty intrigued by it.
GONYEA: No surprise the issue also caught the attention of one of Virginia's three Democratic congressmen, Gerald Connolly.
REPRESENTATIVE GERALD CONNOLLY: 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. That's disgusting.
GONYEA: RNC Chair 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, Governor Bob McDonnell's office told reporters he thought the state's existing electoral system, quote, "works just fine."
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Charlotte.
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