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Republicans aim to rebrand party, attract voters

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After months of infighting over what went wrong for them in the 2012 elections, Republicans on Monday outlined a broad plan to attract racial minorities, women and young voters - and shed their image as a "narrow-minded, out-of-touch" party of "stuffy old men."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus used those words, and more, in an unusually frank assessment of the party's failings in November, and what it must change before the 2014 congressional elections.

In remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, Priebus said Republican policies were sound, but he portrayed a conservative party that had been outmaneuvered strategically and that had sometimes appeared intolerant of women, minorities and others in a heated campaign season.

"Our message was weak, our ground game was insufficient, we weren't inclusive, we were behind in both data and digital (voter turnout efforts), and our (presidential) primary and debate process needed improvement," Priebus said.

He added that although Republicans have "sound" conservative principles, "we know that we have problems, we've identified them and we're implementing the solutions to fix them."

The blueprint released by the RNC calls for what amounts to a $10 million marketing campaign aimed at women, minority and gay voters, constituencies that voted solidly for Democratic President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney in November.

The growing Hispanic population in the United States is a particular concern to Republican leaders. The party's own surveys have indicated that many members of that minority group and others see the Republican Party as unwelcoming.

The Republican plan also seeks to close what Priebus acknowledged is the Democrats' significant technological advantage in identifying likely supporters and getting them to the polls.

He said Republicans will make better use of technology to spread the party's message, and will create an open data platform that will help provide research to their candidates.

In all, the party's self-assessment lists 219 recommended changes as it seeks to recover from its losses in 2012. During the elections, Republicans failed to capture the White House, fell short in their bid to take over the 100-seat Senate and lost a half-dozen seats while maintaining their advantage in the 435-seat House of Representatives.

The release of the RNC plan comes after a three-day Republican gathering in Washington known as the Conservative Political Action Conference, a meeting that highlighted divisions among the conservative Tea Party movement and the party's establishment, many of whom are more moderate.

'POLICIES ARE SOUND'

Democrats and other critics have said that many voters rejected Republican stances such as the party's opposition to same-sex marriages. They note the changing demographics as the minority population grows and younger generations embrace more socially liberal stances.

Priebus said the report was not an attempt to change the Republican policies but an effort to do a better job to articulate the party's positions and win back voters.

"Our policies are sound, but I think in many ways the way that we communicate can be a real problem," Priebus said.

Priebus said Republicans also want to improve their presidential primary process - and avoid bitter divisions such as those that hurt Romney last year - by limiting debates and moving up the party's convention from August to June or July.

Priebus told CBS on Sunday that Republican presidential candidates last year spent too much money, time and energy fighting against each other, rather than against rival Democrats.

But he said on Monday that the party has a racially diverse group of young, rising stars who could contend for the White House in 2016. They include South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida as well as Wisconsin's Representative Paul Ryan and Governor Scott Walker.

"We're going to have a lot of options in 2016," he said.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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