The head of the national Republican Party said on Monday in Denver that the GOP needs to maintain a more consistent presence among communities that rejected the party by wide margins in the last election and that six-month campaigns won’t cut it any longer in an era when Democrats don’t take a break from organizing.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus also said it was imperative that the GOP debates immigration reform but declined to prod lawmakers one way or the other on the divisive issue after participating in a two-hour, closed-door meeting with Hispanic and state party leaders about the future of the GOP.
“We have to have a party that’s granular, community-based, coast-to-coast, fighting for every voter, but on a year-round basis, not just four months ahead of time,” Priebus told reporters after the round-table discussion at the Denver Athletic Club, his first stop on a four-city tour of Western states. He added, “Showing up four months, five months ahead of time isn’t going to cut it. We have to build authentic, real relationships, and that takes time.”
The “listening tour” is a component of the GOP’s Growth & Opportunity Project, designed to analyze what went wrong in the 2012 election, when President Barack Obama won more than 70 percent of the rapidly growing Hispanic vote and lost other minority groups — including African and Asian Americans — by even wider margins.
Priebus said that the party hasn’t been doing a good enough job getting out the message that Republicans stand for “the values of freedom and opportunity,” adding that the GOP also has to deploy better tools in order to get that message across.
“I think we need to communicate what we’re all about a lot better,” he said. “So it’s almost about that as opposed to what we believe in as a political party.”
When it comes to the GOP’s core beliefs, Priebus said he’s happy that congressional Republicans are engaged in the conversation over immigration policy — and noted that former President George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain were once considered leading immigration reformers, “to almost their political peril” — but didn’t say what direction legislation should take.
“I think that immigration reform needs to happen, and what that looks like and what shape that happens, that’s up to the legislature. I’m not in the business of writing policy. But I will say that it’s important for our party to remember that everybody in this party’s an American, and we all have an immigrant story to tell,” said Priebus, who referred to his own family’s Greek heritage and immigrant past.
State GOP chairman Ryan Call called the meeting part of an “ongoing conversation about the direction and future of our party” and said that Republicans were ready to take what they were learning to heart.
“This the first of what will be many similar conversations, roundtables, discussions and efforts to be more inclusive, to listen, and do a better job as a party to address the needs and concerns of folks, particularly in the Hispanic community,” Call said before conducting an interview with a Spanish-language TV station in what bystanders marveled was perfect, fluent Spanish.
Call also defended the party’s recruitment efforts for looming statewide races against Democratic incumbents.
“Our bench in Colorado is deep,” Call said, noting that there are several potential 2014 candidates “kicking the tires” and considering whether to run against U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“The candidates that the Republican Party of Colorado is going to field in the upcoming election cycle for governor, for the United States Senate, for state legislative seats, and all the way down to local races — every single one of those candidates is going to embody the very best of what it is that we stand for as a party in Colorado, and that is opportunity and the opportunity to succeed,” Call said.
One of the roundtable participants said that the GOP has to calibrate its message better in order to reach a changing electorate.
State Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo West, said after the roundtable that she was able to prevail in a swing district — hers was the lone Republican win last year in a House district targeted by Democrats — in part by sharing her story with fellow Hispanic voters, particularly those with “Latinos for Obama” signs in their yard.
“I felt that was important for me to step out with my information and say, ‘I’m a Latina, will you support me as well?’ I like to share my story before I go into what I’m running for. I grew up with a single mom, she raised two daughters… not much different than anybody here. It’s the same story that everybody has. We all worked to get where we are,” she said.
Republicans have to hone their message “and make it stronger, with more substance,” Navarro added.
“I think the party needs to step out and readjust where we’re coming from. Times have changed so much that it’s time for us to come out, start taking in what’s going on around us today — things are changing with technology, with lifestyles. It’s important that we get out and engage with those and see what’s really important to everyone, and how our messaging can come across in support of those,” she said.
After departing Denver on Monday afternoon, Priebus planned to continue his listening tour with discussions with members of the Hispanic and Asian American communities in Los Angeles, followed by a session on technology in San Francisco, and a meeting about early voting in Seattle. He said to expect an initial report on the GOP’s future course forward within weeks, but RNC staffers suggested that this week’s visit won’t be the last time Priebus will be holding discussions on the topic in Colorado.
Colorado Democrats issued a statement the following day about the GOP’s “public relations campaign” in Denver: “Coincidentally, yesterday’s meeting was treated much like Republicans have treated Latinos for decades, ‘closed to the public,’” stated Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio.
“If the GOP is serious about bringing Hispanics into their party, they need to walk the walk. Instead they have politicians like Congressman Mike Coffman, who takes pride in himself for following in the footsteps of Tom Tancredo. Extremism on issues important to Latino families is nothing to be proud of, and certainly nothing Coloradans will support,” Palacio stated.