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Politics & Government

The RNC's Summer Challenge: Find New Voters


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The Republican National Committee held its summer meeting this week in Boston. The party's hoping to lay groundwork to try to turn things around by the next presidential election, exploring everything from better software to track voters to changing their nominating process. Yet they're also wrestling with a more fundamental problem - finding new voters to identify with the party.

NPR's S.V. Date has been in Boston as the meeting and joins us now. Thanks very much for being with us.

S.V. DATE, BYLINE: Good to be here, Scott.

SIMON: What do they try to do in these off-year meetings?

DATE: This is part board meeting. They get reports about their finances, which, by the way, they say are in great shape. It's part strategy session, and it's part pep rally, theater to get their activists fired up. Here, for instance, is the single action that got the most attention over the past three days.

REINCE PRIEBUS: That's why we said to the media with a united voice that a network that spends millions of dollars to spotlight Hilary Clinton is a network with an obvious bias and that's a network that won't be hosting a single Republican primary debate.

DATE: Now that was Chairman Reince Priebus. He's talking about a documentary planned by CNN and a miniseries by NBC about Hilary Clinton. The RNC took an official vote that if the networks don't drop those projects, they'll be barred from hosting GOP primary debates in another three years.

SIMON: What do they do besides talk about movies that haven't been made yet?


DATE: Well, for one thing they've started modifying their rules about their nominating process. Their consensus is that it lasted way to long; all together too much time and attention bashing each other rather than focusing on the democratic opponent. Now, they gave an update on their efforts to sort of reverse engineer the Obama campaign's data mining and voter turnout machine.

Those are the issues they talked about, but they mainly talked around their biggest, possibly existential issue.

SIMON: And that would what's been called the demographic challenge.

DATE: Well, for 20 years, Republicans seemed able to win presidential elections without even trying very hard. But then in the '90s and continuing through this past election, Republicans have been having a more and more difficult time of it. Turns out that as the percentage of white voters continues to fall, so has the GOP's performance.

So this spring the party laid out its growth and opportunity project, and that was to reach out to all the groups that voted overwhelmingly for President Obama. Here was the RNC co-chair, Sharon Day.

SHARON DAY: We have to go places we didn't go before. We have to go places that maybe are not our comfort zones. We have to reach out and get our message heard because there's nothing wrong with our message. We need more messengers that look like America all across America.

SIMON: Now that doesn't sound like it might be contentious, but was there controversy over it?

DATE: There was no controversy at the meeting, but you have to remember the meeting is kind of the party establishment, so to speak. It has been controversial within the party but outside of the establishment, especially since part of that olive branch to Latino voters would be an immigration overhaul. Now, in response, we've seen the embrace of this missing white voters theory, that Republicans don't really need all this outreach, they just need to improve upon their turnout with white voters to start winning again. So yesterday, you had Priebus make this extraordinary statement to the RNC about these critics.

PRIEBUS: If you don't want to grow our party without compromising our principles, if you only want to be a voice of dissent or if you just want to be angry, if you don't want to be a problem solver, then you're putting yourself ahead of the movement.

DATE: Now if he sounds a little bit defensive, put yourself in his shoes. The Republican base for a long, long time has been overwhelmingly white, older and disproportionately Southern. Now, clearly, some part of that group sees the demographic trend in this country towards a majority non-white population as distressing. So, these last couple of elections have show Republican leaders their traditional base is not enough to win high-turnout elections.

SIMON: NPR's S.V. Date, who's been at the Republican National Committee meeting in Boston. Shirish, thanks very much.

DATE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.