SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former Republican presidential candidate and Utah governor, Jon Huntsman is calling on his party to broaden its appeal before the next presidential election.
Huntsman is laying out a prescription for the Republican Party and the country in a speech Thursday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Southern California.
The Reagan stage offers Huntsman a high-profile chance to assert his GOP credentials with his party's base after announcing his support for same sex-marriage and joining a bipartisan group of political activists calling for Republicans and Democrats to work together.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Huntsman said it's too early to discuss whether he'd consider running for president again, but 2016 and the years leading up to it will be "critically important" for his party.
"I'm a lifelong Republican. And I want the party to succeed," he said. "I also know that the clock is ticking. And if we lose again at the national level in 2016, the chances are pretty good we'll be out of office until 2024."
If Republicans want to win the next election, they'll need to offer a message that appeals to "lost demographics," such as women and minorities, he said.
"I think we have to prove the point that Republicans can put together winning coalitions at the national level, as we've been able to do at the state level," Huntsman said.
Since he dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination in January 2012, Huntsman has been staying visible with interviews and speeches around the country. Most recently, he drew headlines in February when he came out in support of same-sex marriage in an essay for The American Conservative magazine.
In January, Huntsman signed on with the No Labels organization, calling for Congress to address the country's dysfunctional politics and demanding more problem-solving and bipartisan cooperation.
"Whether you're a Republican or not, you should be cheering on a strong, two-party system," Huntsman said Thursday. "And we're not going to have a strong, two-party system until we can reconstitute the base of issues that make up the Republican party."
In a copy of his speech given to The Associated Press, Huntsman calls for his party to reach out to groups that have generally eluded the GOP, including Latinos and young voters, and embrace immigration policies that retain highly-skilled workers and address the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
"We need to re-orient the discussion so that it is less a focus exclusively on security and more focused on economic vibrancy and 21st century competitiveness. Because we can't succeed as a nation unless we're open to immigration," he said.
Huntsman's speech includes a brief mention of same-sex marriage, calling on the Republican Party to "demand equality under the law for all Americans, including marriage."
The government's role is to "enforce equality under the law," which is an "old, Republican, Abraham Lincoln principle," he said.
"Long term, stable relationships are a conservative issue. Not allowing people who love each other to marry isn't a conservative issue," Huntsman said.
Beyond his recommendations for his party, Huntsman said America needs to strengthen its public education system, become more energy independent and more competitive in the global marketplace. He also decries the influence of special interests and mega-campaign donors in American politics.
Huntsman said he wants stronger restrictions on term limits and politicians hopping from public office to jobs in industries they oversaw or funded.
Whether the party will embrace those positions remains to be seen, but Huntsman said his party needs a robust debate in the years approaching the next presidential election.
As for his own prospects, Huntsman won't say whether he's going to throw his name into the race again, saying it's "way too early to even be talking about those things."
"I'm going to spend my time over the next year, at least in part, talking about the issues that matter most." Huntsman said. "Because if we can't come up with a platform of issues that are relevant, that the American people can see are heartfelt and authentic, and relevant in their lives, than we don't win."
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