White House Cheat Sheet: Republicans Redouble Re-Branding Efforts
National Republican leaders gathered in Northern Virginia over the weekend for the first in a series of town halls designed to begin the long process of re-making the GOP's badly tattered image.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and former governors Jeb Bush (Fla.) and Mitt Romney (Mass.) -- along with more than 100 attendees -- crowded in a pizza joint in Arlington on Saturday to make the case that the party is down but not out.
"It is about time to be an inclusive as we can," said Cantor recently of the town halls, which are being organized by a new group -- that he is leading -- known as the National Council for a New America. "What we are aiming to do it to join together in hopes of beginning a conversation with the American people."
The formation of the National Council comes within days of another upstart GOP group -- known as Resurgent Republic -- comprised of a number of top elected officials and consultants within the party that is designed to provide data via polling and focus groups to guide a series of policy pronouncements.
"This is a matter of trying to pull some of the finest minds in the country together to craft a creative and energetic new message," explained pollster Whit Ayres, one of the co-founders of the group. "The idea is to think forward not backward."
These twin developments are a recognition by the establishment wing of the party that the Republican brand is in absolutely dire shape and could relegate the GOP to permanent minority status unless change comes -- and comes quickly.
Self-identifying Republicans are at their lowest ebb in decades -- just 21 percent of Americans called themselves Republicans in the most recent Washington Post/ABC survey -- and independents continue to be more inclined to support Democrats.
That same poll showed that social issues -- like gay marriage -- are of declining potency in a political context. Forty-nine percent of the sample said they supported the idea of gay people being allowed to marry while 46 percent opposed it, a drastic shift from a 2006 Post/ABC poll where opposition (58 percent) to gay marriage far outstripped support (36 percent) for the idea.
Can a series of town halls or focus groups launch Republicans from their minority status politically? Absolutely not. And, in truth, much depends on how President Obama performs over the coming years. If Obama is perceived to be succeeding in leading the country out of the recession then it's hard to imagine the country clamoring for alternative solutions.
But the formation of the National Council and Resurgent Republic suggests that some within the party believe they know what ails it and are beginning to take steps to solve the problems that have plagued the GOP over the past several elections.
The critical question is whether the base of the Republican Party -- its most vocal and conservative element -- will follow along with these new efforts or reject them as an attempt to moderate the message to appeal to independents.
The answer to that question will likely determine the success or failure not just of these two groups but also of the GOP as a whole in the 2010 and 2012 election.
What To Watch For:
Monday Fix Picks: We pick 'em so you don't have to.
1. President Obama explains -- in detail -- his economic philosophy.
2. Senators offer advice on picking the next Supreme Court justice.
3. Jack Kemp, RIP.
4. Terry McAuliffe mixes business and politics.
5. "Mine That Bird" may not run in second leg of Triple Crown.
Reid is Ready: Senate Majority Harry Reid (Nev.) acknowledged that national Republicans "say they are going to take care of me like they did Tom Daschle" but insisted he is ready for a tough race in 2010 during an interview late last week with the Fix. Reid argued that the Daschle parallel is inexact -- noting that the former South Dakota senator (and Democratic leader) was running in a strongly Republican state at the height -- 2004 -- of President George W. Bush's popularity. Reid, on the other hand, describes Nevada as a "blue state" and noted that it is Democratic president not a Republican one who is ascendant at the moment. That's not to say Reid isn't preparing for a political war; he boasted that he raised $1 million during the two-week congressional Easter break alone and ended March with more than $5 million on hand. That's a hefty sum given that Republicans continue to struggle to find a candidate; if Rep. Dean Heller takes a pass, the GOP bench in the state is surprisingly thin. "I know that anyone can be beaten," Reid said. "I also know that to beat me is not going to be all that easy."
Ohio Landscape: Former Rep. John Kasich (R) took the first major step toward challenging Gov. Ted Strickland (D), formally filing papers last week incorporating his gubernatorial committee and naming Columbus attorney Brad Sinnott as its treasurer. Kasich's candidacy has long been expected by Ohio Republicans who are likely to quickly line up behind him although former senator Mike Dewine (among others) is still looking at the contest. Kasich spent nearly two decades in the House, emerging as one of the leading party voices on budget matters. Following his short-lived candidacy for president in 2000, Kasich spent much of the last decade as a commentator on Fox News Channel but was always expected to run for office again. After passing on the open seat race in 2006, Kasich has spent the last several years positioning to challenge Strickland who soundly defeated former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell three years ago. Strickland's job approval numbers remain strong although the contentious budget fight in the state could rally Republicans and fiscally conservative independent to Kasich's cause. Given Ohio's primacy at the presidential level, national strategists will keep a close eye on this contest for hints about the Buckeye State's tendencies in 2012.
House Republicans Land Recruit: In a sign that their fortunes may be turning a bit, House Republican strategists have convinced Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta (R) to challenge Rep. Carol Shea Porter (D) in 2010 -- a top-tier recruit in a highly targeted seat. Guinta, who is regarded as a rising star within the New Hampshire Republican Party, had been considered runs for governor and Senate before deciding on a challenge to Shea Porter. "[Giunta] embodies everything we are looking for in a candidate and we expect more qualified individuals like him to be stepping forward in congressional districts across the country in the coming weeks and months," said National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Ken Spain. Shea Porter was a surprise winner four years ago and sits in a district that went relatively narrowly -- 53 percent -- for President Obama last November. Expect this to be one of the marquee House races in the country next fall.
Trouble for Vitter?: For all his problems over the last several years, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter appeared to be putting all the pieces in place for a somewhat pedestrian reelection. He had raised money furiously -- $2.5 million on hand at the end of March -- and successfully convinced those pondering a primary against him to step aside. But, now comes new polling that shows Louisiana voters are not entirely sold on the Republican incumbent. The survey, which was conducted by Southern Media & Opinion Research, showed that three in ten Louisiana voters said they definitely planned to vote for Vitter in November 2010 while 28 percent said they would be voting for someone else and 35 percent said they would at least consider pulling the lever for a different candidate. Those numbers are mitigated somewhat by the fact the nearly six in ten voters believe Vitter is doing a good job -- a very solid showing for an incumbent who has weathered as much bad press as Vitter. And, the old adage that you can't beat someone with no one is particularly true in Louisiana at the moment for Democrats. No single candidate has stepped up yet although federal races in Louisiana do tend to take a while to percolate.
Say What?: "I'm going to call Barack Obama every day!" -- Former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe touting his ties to national leaders while stumping for governor of Virginia.
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