GOP looks to Virginia governor race as test run for party changes

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

The Republican Party sees Virginia as a critical test site for the party's newly planned national makeover, an effort to broaden the party's appeal after devastating election losses in 2012, according to a report the GOP released Monday.

The Republican National Committee unveiled the highly anticipated "Growth and Opportunity Project," a 100-page self-reflection on the GOP's strategic shortcomings, including the party's poor standing among young and minority voters and ineffective voter outreach efforts.

The gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey this year provide a "great opportunity for us to test our voter contact and fine-tune our future efforts," the report said. That includes more targeted advertising and hiring local campaign organizers to lead the ground game instead of flying operatives in from outside the state.

"The RNC Political Division, working with other committees, state parties, and new GOP data analytics entities should conduct tests of paid mail, phone and volunteer phones, digital and personal 'in person' voter contact in target areas during the 2013 cycle to determine most effective messaging, contact and conversion to votes," the report said.

It also suggests the party's 72-hour get-out-the-vote efforts just before the election should be "revisited, strengthened and retested" in Virginia this year.

With Republican Gov. Chris Christie polling strong, the New Jersey governor's race may not be as competitive as once expected. That leaves the Virginia race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as the year's marquee political battle.

Virginia has become an important battleground in presidential elections as well. Changing demographics helped President Obama win the state in 2008 and 2012 after a half century of Republican dominance in the Old Dominion. The report cited an exit poll showing that two-thirds of young voters have an unfavorable view of the GOP.

"States in which our presidential candidates used to win, such as New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia and Florida, are increasingly voting Democratic," the report said. "We are losing in too many places."

The report criticized states that hold conventions or caucuses instead of primaries in nominating contests, saying it shuts out participation at a time when the GOP needs to grow. In Virginia, Cuccinelli supported a party coup that switched this year's scheduled primary to a convention, a move that ultimately forced Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling out of the Republican race.

In one of the few positives notes in the report, the authors said Republican governors, like Virginia's Bob McDonnell, "have campaigned and governed in a manner that is inclusive and appealing. They point the way forward."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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