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Sunday May 3rd, 2015 11:00PM

GOP pushes rising stars amid calls for solutions

By The Associated Press
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BOSTON (AP) -- Republican officials are looking to promote a fresh group of diverse rising stars to help resolve their election woes, while frustrated party elders insist that all Republicans must offer more solutions for the nation's most pressing issues.

The calls for change come nine months after a painful 2012 election in which the GOP lost the presidential race and a handful of close Senate contests. A tug of war over the Republican Party's future is on display as conservative activists and party leaders from across the country gather in Boston this week for the Republican National Committee's annual summer meeting.

"We have to get beyond being anti-Obama," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich declared at the gathering Wednesday, offering a particularly harsh critique of Republican strategy on health care.

Gingrich said congressional Republicans would have "zero answer" for how to replace the president's health care overhaul when asked, despite their having voted repeatedly to repeal the measure.

"We are caught right now in a culture, and you see it every single day, where as long as we're negative and as long as we're vicious and as long as we can tear down our opponent, we don't have to learn anything. And so we don't," Gingrich said. "This is a very deep problem."

While there is little sign of GOP unity on solutions for immigration, health care or a looming budget standoff, RNC officials are launching a program to highlight a new generation of Republican leaders - largely younger and more ethnically diverse - to help broaden the party's appeal among women and minorities, groups that overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama in the last election. The program supplements an ongoing effort to expand Republican outreach among minority communities across the country.

Women voted for Obama by an 11-point margin in 2012, and they have not backed a GOP candidate for president since Ronald Reagan's successful bid for re-election in 1984. Although last year's nominee, Mitt Romney, improved on John McCain's margin of victory among whites in 2008, Romney fared worse than McCain among Hispanic and Asian voters, who make up a growing share of the U.S. population.

The RNC on Thursday was introducing the first four members of its "Rising Stars" program:

-Karin Agness, founder and president of the Network of enlightened Women, or NeW. The Indiana native started the organization for conservative university women in 2004 while at the University of Virginia.

-Scott G. Erickson, a San Jose, Calif., police officer for 15 years and a writer for The Foundry, the blog of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation.

-Marilinda Garcia, a Hispanic and New Hampshire state representative first elected at 23. Now in her fourth term, she serves on the executive board of the immigration reform group Americans by Choice.

-T.W. Shannon, an African-American and speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The Lawton native is a business consultant and an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation.

The panel will be featured during a discussion Thursday that is expected to be the first of many high-profile appearances designed to help the party shed the image that it is too old and white. Republican officials have long fought that stereotype, but RNC communications director Sean Spicer says this time will be different.

"We have the resources and the bandwidth to be able to actually promote these people," Spicer said. "We just weren't in the position to do that years ago."

Indeed, the committee has crafted plans, backed by new staffing, cash and online tools, to ensure that the fresh faces aren't forgotten after this week's meeting.

Press aides have been assigned to help drive media coverage focused on demographic groups instead of geographic regions: youth, women, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and African-Americans. And the RNC has created an online database for the first time that allows staffers to quickly find fresh faces for media interviews. For example, an RNC spokesman said the tool could quickly locate a female Hispanic mom from New Jersey for a relevant media interview.

Officials hope that promoting new faces will help deliver more votes in next year's midterm elections and beyond, although critics in and out of the party suggest that may not be enough unless the party adopts a more solution-oriented message. Republican leaders have been slow to embrace solutions on issues critical to minority voters, particularly immigration.

House Republicans are resisting a comprehensive immigration bill that passed with bipartisan support in the Senate. An RNC report released this spring concluded that the GOP "must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only."

Asked about the party's so-called identity crisis, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said it would take time to resolve.

"I have to focus on the things that I most control," he said, citing effort to add staffers and improve data sharing.

In the meantime, Priebus, too, said his party must focus on solutions.

"We have to be a party that promotes a positive plan for the future," he said, while declining to take a position on a possible Republican-backed government shutdown this fall. "I think we've done it, but I think we've got to do a much better job."
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