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Paul Sancya/AP
Chairman of GOPAC Michael Steele

Ailing Republican Party Searches for New Voices

November 17, 2008 08:06 AM
by Christopher Coats
As the nation’s Republican governors met in Florida this week and the national party continued its preparation for the selection of a new chairman, the GOP faithful began their search for a new voice and direction.

Rebranding the Republican Party

Facing minorities in both houses of Congress, a damaged brand and a Democrat in the White House, many Republicans see a chance to restructure their party and find a leader who will make it more attractive to a new generation of young and minority voters.

Although the national spotlight remains on Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, several figures have emerged as potential new voices of the GOP in an attempt to fill a gap left by party leadership such as Sen. John McCain and House leaders Fla. Rep. Adam Putnam and House Minority Leader John Boehner—all sidelined by election losses.

Representing a number of different positions on the GOP political spectrum, these figures echo a similar theme of reinvention, restructuring and working toward a more cohesive national message in an effort to bring voters back into the Republican fold in time for the next election.

“I think we have been kind of wandering and doubting ourselves for far too long,” former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele told Hannity and Colmes upon announcing his intention to seek the party chair. “I think this past election was the culmination of that self-doubt which has to end. We have a message, I think, of empowerment and ownership and opportunity that resonate with Americans. We just need to get back to that.”

Key Players: New faces of the GOP

Bobby Jindal

Capturing the spotlight at this week’s governor’s conference, La. Gov. Bobby Jindal placed blame for Election Day losses squarely on the shoulders of the GOP, insisting that in order to succeed, Republicans must offer a platform of strong reform and policy beyond promises of fiscal conservatism.

“We gave them reason to fire us,” he told the gathered conference, according to the Bayou Buzz. “We’re not going to win debates or elections … by simply trying to be cheaper versions of the Democratic Party.”

Representing a more moderate wing of the Republican Party, the Louisiana governor has argued the party must move away from a strictly ideological approach to governance and instead offer clearer, more affordable ways to offer basic services.

“Let’s not argue whether we need universal healthcare,” The Bayou Buzz reported Jindal telling the governor’s conference. “Of course we need universal health care. Everybody needs to be covered. Instead, let’s argue the way in which we can do it.”

The first politician of Indian decent to win national elected office, Jindal’s name has often been mentioned as a possibility to run for the presidency in 2012.

Mark Sanford

An early rumored pick for McCain’s VP slot, S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford has emerged as a strong national voice for traditional conservatism in the months since it became clear that his ascent to the national stage would have to wait.

Blaming this year’s losses on a rejection of the party rather than conservative thought, Sanford has become a sharp critic of his own party’s shortcomings, especially as a vocal opponent of the recent financial sector bailout plan. 

“Some on the left will say our electoral losses are a repudiation of our principles of lower taxes, smaller government and individual liberty,” he wrote in an op-ed for CNN. “But (Election Day) was not in fact a rejection of those principles—it was a rejection of Republicans’ failure to live up to those principles.”

Michael Steele

Criticizing what he saw a discrepancy between words and deeds, Michael Steele has called on Republicans to return to the “timeless truths” that he saw bring voters to the party under Ronald Reagan, and focus on what they are for, more than what they are against.

“We must articulate a positive vision for America’s future that speaks to Americans’ hopes, concerns and needs,” the former Maryland lieutenant governor wrote in The Wall Street Journal after announcing his bid for the party chairmanship. “It’s time to stop defining ourselves by what we are not, and tell voters what we believe, how we’ll lead, and where we’ll go; how we Republicans will make America better.”

Now acting chairman of GOPAC, a Republican political action committee that recruits and trains new candidates, activists and staff, Steele would be the first African-American national GOP chairman, representing a bigger umbrella for the party, especially among black voters who shifted overwhelmingly toward the Democratic Party during this year’s election.

Tim Pawlenty

Aiming for a more modern, broader GOP in the future, Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty emerged as a national voice of the party after his 2006 win and earlier in the year when his name was included on McCain’s list of possible running mates.

“The country is changing culturally, demographically, technologically, economically and the like,” the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported Pawlenty saying. “And the Republican Party isn’t changing in a way that reflects those major or macro changes across the country.”

Pawlenty’s plan for the party would take the GOP away from what he calls “County Club” Republicans and toward a broader, more diverse collection of “Sam’s Club” Republicans—a Pawlenty term made famous during this year’s presidential contest. 

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