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GOP unveils road map to attract gay, minority voters amid party divisions

Monday, March 18, 2013
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The Republican party on Monday unveiled a road map for a new, more inclusive GOP aimed at attract minority voters, including “welcoming” attitudes on gay rights — but minutes after unveiling the proposal, the party chairman distanced himself from it, and some conservatives and tea partyers balked.

The 100-page report, entitled the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” was quickly labeled an autopsy of the 2012 elections by political pundits inside the Beltway, and noted that the GOP’s uncompromising stance on key issues of concern to gay and lesbian voters had alienated the youth vote and young adults, causing the party to lose critical races.

“For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view,” according to the report.

“Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.”

Conservative and tea party criticism was immediate, a sign that the prescriptions may end up widening existing divides rather than building new bridges in an evolving GOP.

“This is not my report,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus told reporters, describing the contents as simply recommendations by a five-person panel, even though he was the person who had commissioned the self-audit after the party lost a second consecutive presidential election last fall.

Priebus made the comments immediately after declaring Monday “Day One” of the party’s push to change perceptions the audit uncovered — that the GOP is “narrow minded,” “”out of touch” and “stuffy old men.”

“The perception that we’re the party of the rich unfortunately continues to grow,” Priebus said as he released the report, drawn up by panelists with strong ties to “big-tent” Republicans who have long favored more inclusive policies opposed by ideological purists.

Despite party disagreements, the audit recommended a $10 million minority outreach program designed to market the Republican brand to gay voters, women and racial minorities, a proposal that comes just months after those voting groups helped propel Obama to re-election.

While not specifically mentioning issues such as same-sex marriage, the report noted:

“We believe our policies are the best ones to improve the lives of the American people, all the American people, our candidates and office holders need to do a better job talking in normal, people-oriented terms and we need to go to communities where Republicans do not normally go to listen and make our case.

“We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too. We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities. But it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters.”

But the party’s stance on issues related to gay rights appears to have affected even the more conservative members, as illustrated this past weekend at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, (CPAC) held in suburban Washington D.C.

Buzzfeed reporter Chris Geidner noted that anti-gay Washington lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who had successfully fought to keep the gay Republican group GOProud barred from participating at CPAC, found herself and National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown speaking to a nearly empty room, which had been filled to capacity in previous year’s gatherings.

An hour later, GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia told a packed, standing room only crowd at CPAC, “We have tolerated something in our movement for far too long: anti-gay bigotry.”

LaSalvia attended CPAC as a guest of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which hosted a panel on which LaSalvia appeared, “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet.”

“Let me be clear, I do not believe that just because someone opposes same-sex marriage that that automatically makes them a homophobe,” said LaSalvia. “But there are, however, a few. There are a few in our movement who just don’t like gay people. In 2013, that just isn’t OK in America anymore.”

The GOP’s full report is here.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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