Pawlenty: Party must broaden baseMinnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday urged fellow Republicans to welcome outsiders into the party ranks, not scorn them, as the GOP rebuilds from defeats that left the White House and Congress in Democratic hands.
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday urged fellow Republicans to welcome outsiders into the party ranks, not scorn them, as the GOP rebuilds from defeats that left the White House and Congress in Democratic hands.
The potential 2012 presidential candidate, addressing a meeting of the Republican National Committee, appealed to members to build bridges to independents and conservative-leaning Democrats that would win converts and, in turn, elections.
To move forward at a time when Republican numbers are shrinking in many states, the party should show “respect of those who don’t agree with us,” Pawlenty said. “Let’s make sure that we welcome others who are not yet Republicans.”
The speech came in the midst of an organizational meeting in which party leaders are discussing ways to repair their dented brand, lure back big-dollar contributors and identify and train a new generation of Republican candidates.
The meeting follows a difficult stretch for the GOP. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, once seen as rising stars, have been damaged by extramarital affairs; Democrat Al Franken ousted Republican Norm Coleman in Minnesota’s Senate race; and moderate Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter became a Democrat.
Republican Chairman Michael Steele said the GOP needs to get back in touch with average Americans by stressing the party’s traditional values, from tightfisted spending to strong national security.
“We stopped relying on our own values,” Steele said.
Republicans eager to leave behind the George W. Bush era see promise in the rocky reception for President Barack Obama’s health care plan and his slipping poll numbers.
They like their chances in governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, which will be seen as early referenda on Obama’s leadership.
The party also wants to expand its numbers in state legislatures, which will redraw political district boundaries after the 2010 census.
Pawlenty’s speech amounted to a coming out for a two-term governor who is little known outside his home state. He depicted himself as a heartland politician able to win votes from across party lines, while firmly anchored to the Ronald Reagan tradition.
Much of the speech was devoted to deriding Obama on health care, spending and foreign policy.
“Pretty speeches don’t defeat or intimidate tyrants and thugs,” he said in an obvious reference to the president. “It’s weakness that temps our enemies.”
Pawlenty said the Democratic president’s health care plan is a “scheme that would make Bernie Madoff blush,” referring to the imprisoned investor. “It ain’t going to work.”
California in many ways reflects the challenges Republicans face nationally. GOP registration has been slipping in the nation’s most populous state, and deep divisions remain over issues like immigration and abortion.
Pawlenty said Republicans, in charting a path forward, “must apply the values that founded our party and made our nation great.”
While urging the party to aggressively court new members, Pawlenty has struggled with party-building in his home state. Republicans have lost ground in every election since he became governor in 2003. He is the sole statewide GOP officeholder, and his party controls its fewest legislative seats since 1992.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan said Pawlenty “is a perfect example of why Republicans are no longer relevant.
“Republicans like Pawlenty spend all of their time trying to appeal to the worst instincts of the far right wing by chastising Democrats who are making real and substantive progress on behalf of the American people,” Sevugan said in a statement.