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Senate GOP leader says party must change

WASHINGTON (AP) - After crushing defeats in back-to-back
elections, the top Senate Republican warned Thursday that the GOP
risks remaining out of power in the White House and Congress unless
it better explains its core principles to woo one-time faithful and
new loyalists.

"The results of the two recent elections are real, and so are
the obstacles we face as a party," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,
told the Republican National Committee on Thursday. "My concern is
that unless we do something to adapt, our status as a minority
party may become too pronounced for an easy recovery."

"The situation is challenging, but it's far from irreversible," McConnell added, a dash of optimism in an otherwise stark assessment of where the Republican Party went wrong as he provided a road map for how it can right itself.

He spoke to Republicans gathered in Washington to choose the
next national chairman; five candidates are trying to unseat former
President George W. Bush's hand-picked RNC chairman, Mike Duncan of Kentucky. The vote is Friday.

Implicit in McConnell's message was the concern that the
Republican Party under Bush strayed from its beliefs, resulting in
drubbings in two straight elections.

While McConnell praised Bush as a man of principle, he said:
"We can all agree, sad as it is, that he wasn't winning any
popularity contests. And history shows that unpopular presidents
are usually a drag on everybody else who wears their political
label."

McConnell called for the GOP to embrace its conservative
principles - and resist diluting its message - to bring people back
and attract new rank-and-file. Still, he added: "It's clear our
message isn't getting out to nearly as many people as it should ...
Too often we've let others define us. And the image they've painted
isn't very pretty."

He acknowledged GOP fears that certain demographics from certain
regions have shunned the party. And, he warned: "In politics,
there's a name for a regional party: it's called a minority
party."

Just eight years after Republicans controlled the White House
and Congress, the GOP finds itself out of power and trying to
figure out how to rebound while its foe has grown much stronger.
The Democratic Party is empowered by a broadened coalition of
voters - including Hispanics and young voters - who swung behind
President Barack Obama's call for change.

Meanwhile, Bush left the White House with very low job approval
ratings, Republicans saw their ranks in Congress grow even smaller
and the party finds itself without a standard-bearer. Perhaps even
more damaging to the GOP, the slice of the country that calls
itself Republican has shrunk over the past few years as Obama and
his Democrats attracted voters of all political stripes.

Among those challenging Duncan for party chairman are: former
Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, former Ohio Secretary of State
Ken Blackwell, South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson, Michigan
GOP chairman Saul Anuzis and former Tennessee GOP chairman Chip
Saltsman. They have spent the past few months arguing that Duncan
simply represents a continuation of Bush.

Republicans say it's all but certain no one will get a majority
on the first ballot when the 168-member RNC votes. Republicans say
Duncan leads in endorsements for a second two-year term, with
Steele, Dawson and Anuzis in competitive positions, while Blackwell
trails. Saltsman is by far the longest shot, Republicans say.

Still, with at least two rounds of balloting expected, it's
possible anyone could end up with a majority.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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