GOP soul-searching starts in N.C.

Officials meet this week to decide how to change the party message. There is no clear path forward.

Posted: January 24, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Republican soul-searching begins in earnest this week as GOP officials from every state in the nation come together for the first time since their party's November shellacking.

There is broad agreement that the Republican Party needs to undergo fundamental changes to remain competitive as surging minority populations reshape the American electorate. But there is no clear path forward. And even as they gather in a Charlotte, N.C., hotel this week - just days after President Obama began his second term - Republicans are in some ways as divided as ever.

Facing his first reelection test later in the week, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is under intense pressure to improve the Republican brand to attract more women and Hispanics, while not upsetting the hard-line conservatives who represent his party's most passionate voters.

"They're really going to have to do full-throttle self-examination. They have alienated so many people who are Republicans," said Olympia Snowe, a three-term Republican senator, who retired last year, in part because of her party's shift to the right. "It's going to be a mighty challenge. The party's gone astray."

Indeed, the formal theme of the RNC's winter meeting - "Renew, Grow, Win" - reflects an understanding from party officials that the GOP must grow to survive. In particular, this week's meeting will focus on the need to abandon harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration, women's issues, and the social safety net, rhetoric that in the fall helped drive moderate voters and minorities toward Democrats.

"We need to renew our values, renew our party, renew what we stand for," RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said.

The push to broaden the party's message is the focus, but not the only business, on the agenda for the three-day meeting in North Carolina, a presidential swing state where Democrats hosted their national convention last summer.

Republicans from across the nation will decide Friday whether Priebus deserves a second term after his party lost an opportunity to win the White House and add Senate seats under what appeared to be favorable political conditions. The 40-year-old Wisconsin native is widely expected to win reelection, despite a challenge from Maine National Committeeman Mark Willis, a former Ron Paul supporter who led a brief revolt at the party's national convention last year in Tampa, Fla.

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