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GOP backs immigration overhaul to woo Hispanics

8:09 AM, Mar 18, 2013   |    comments
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Catalina Camia, USA TODAY

The Republican Party is embracing a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, in an effort to attract more Hispanic voters who overwhelmingly backed President Obama and Democrats in the last election.

The support for an immigration overhaul is part of a $10 million outreach effort that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus formally unveiled Monday. The outreach will begin this year, well ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.

The proposal to boost outreach, which will include women and young people, is part of a major post-election report aimed at showing how the GOP can reverse its unsuccessful showing in the 2008 and 2012 elections. In both campaigns, the Republican Party failed to take the White House and did not gain power in the Senate.

Among the 219 recommendations in the report: Shortening the GOP presidential primary season and cutting in half the number of candidate debates to about 10 to 12 sessions.

"When Republicans lost in November, it was a wake-up call," Priebus said in remarks at the National Press Club. "We want to build our party and we want to do it with bold strokes. ... We're done with business as usual."

Obama won a second term on the strength of votes from women, minorities and young people. He took 71% of the Hispanic vote, 55% of women and 60% of young voters under 30, according to surveys of voters as they left their polling places.

"The RNC cannot and will not write off any demographic, community, or region of this country," Priebus said, as he explained that focus groups viewed the party as "narrow minded," "out of touch" and made up of "stuffy old men."

The report states Republicans "must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform," without going into specific policy proposals. Doing so is "consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all," the report says.

"If we do not, our party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only," the report says.

A bipartisan group of senators has released guidelines for an immigration overhaul, which would lead to a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. The proposal first aims at tightening the borders and improving the way employers can verify the status of workers before a pathway to citizenship kicks in.

The pathway to citizenship is the most controversial part of the Senate outline, since many House Republicans view such a proposal as amnesty for lawbreakers. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, heralded as one of the Republican Party's rising stars, is one of the proposal's chief backers.

Priebus stressed repeatedly in his remarks that the party's goal is to recast its tone and change perceptions about Republicans. "It's about being decent," he said. "People don't deserve to be disrespected."

Besides improving the party's messaging and changing its tactics to reach all voters, the RNC report also includes recommendations on updating the GOP's technology and data collection and the way it runs campaigns by using success stories from the states.

On presidential primaries, Priebus said the party will develop guidelines for fewer debates so that the overall effect is to "help our eventual nominee." The RNC also plans to adopt a shorter primary season, one that will continue emphasizing the "first-in-the-nation" status of states such Iowa and New Hampshire. The goal, however, is to hold an earlier national convention so the nominee will have access to general election funds.

Many Republicans believe 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was hurt by the 20 primary debates, which were time consuming and spotlighted negative attacks between the candidates. The long primary season meant Romney had to wait until after the GOP national convention, held last August in Tampa, to tap into general election funds.

USA TODAY

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