Looking To Broaden Appeal, RNC Heads To Hollywood
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The Republican National Committee is holding its spring meeting this week in a Democratic stronghold, Hollywood. It's part of an effort to broaden the party's appeal. So far, there are sharp divisions among RNC delegates about the future direction of the GOP.
But NPR's Kirk Siegler reports there's general agreement that the party isn't effectively communicating its message.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: At a sometimes raucous afternoon meeting yesterday, speaker after speaker walked up to the mic and made pleas about the future of the GOP. We need to multiply, not divide, one said. Another urged the party to be more welcoming to newcomers. When it was Ada Fisher's turn, she had a very pointed message.
ADA FISHER: Look around the room. There are only three of us who are black in this room.
SIEGLER: During an interview after the meeting adjourned, Fisher, North Carolina's national committeewoman, brought it up again. She says one of the biggest problems with the Republican Party today is that it's letting everyone else define it. And Fisher says, historically, the GOP had a strong record on civil rights, and it should highlight that. But she says Republicans today also shouldn't compromise on their core principles.
FISHER: I don't want the party to be Democratic lite, to try to emulate everything that the Democrats have done. We have to stand for something. We stand for individual responsibility. We stand for free enterprise. We live for these kind of things.
SIEGLER: Becoming Democratic lite is a prominent concern being uttered during breaks in the halls and in closed-door strategy sessions here in Hollywood this week. The spring meeting is the first major gathering of party activists since RNC Chairman Reince Priebus unveiled his harsh postgame assessment of the 2012 election. His growth and opportunity report calls for expanding the GOP's tent to include more women and minorities and to be more inclusive of gays and lesbians.
Several prominent social conservative groups sent Priebus a harshly worded letter this week saying Republicans owe many of their successes to faith-based, values voters, and they threatened to leave the party. It's safe to say Priebus also irritated some people here.
CURLY HAUGLAND: It's a little bit taking it on the chin for the Romney campaign. The Romney campaign fumbled the ball, I think, and so give credit to Reince for kind of taking it on the chin for them.
SIEGLER: Curly Haugland is an RNC national committeeman from North Dakota.
HAUGLAND: We don't need to single out a particular ethnic group or a particular voting block and try to do a focus group-tested message. We just need to be honest about our principles and stand behind them.
SIEGLER: The Priebus report cites focus groups calling the GOP out of touch and the party of stuffy old men. Linda Ackerman is an RNC delegate from California.
LINDA ACKERMAN: I'm an older woman, but I'm not stuffy. I honestly do not understand why people think that the Republicans are the country club people, the wealthy people. I can tell you I'm an average American.
SIEGLER: Ackerman says her son is unemployed. She's a manager at a water utility in Orange County. Orange County was once one of the country's biggest Republican strongholds, but Democrats have made some gains there lately.
ACKERMAN: The demographics, obviously, they're changing, dramatically, and again, I think we did not keep up with how quickly things were changing.
SIEGLER: To win in Orange County or anywhere else, Ackerman says Republicans are going to have to bring their message into communities they may not have traditionally been in, even if it's uncomfortable for some.
Kirk Siegler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.