Chastened Va. Republicans promise major changes

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Photo - Voters at a polling station in Crystal City (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Voters at a polling station in Crystal City (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginia Republican officials, humbled by their catastrophic election night performance, are trying to figure out what went wrong.

State party leaders have been blunt about mistakes made, and have promised serious changes before future elections.

"The president lost over 100,000 votes in Virginia, and all we gained was 30,000," Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli told The Washington Examiner. "That's pathetic. It's really quite lame. Given how depressed we were in 2008 and the enthusiasm in 2012, there's a lot to digest."

President Obama captured the Old Dominion with 50.7 percent of the vote en route to re-election. Republican Mitt Romney did only slightly better there than Sen. John McCain in 2008, despite a statewide campaign structure far superior to what was in place four years ago.

Across the board, Republicans said matching the president's effective outreach to new voters ?-- namely Latinos, Asians and college students -- tops their to-do list going into future elections.

"It's something the party has not done a good job of over the past decade," said Cortland Putbrese, chairman of the Republican Party of Richmond. "Virginia's demographics have changed pretty quickly and fairly drastically over the past decade. If it is the case that Democrats are growing their base with those voters, we need to reach out and go on the offense."

Gov. Bob McDonnell, who also serves as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, added that the party had a messaging issue that turned off independent voters.

"We Republicans have to do a better job in the areas where the president has excelled," McDonnell said. Chief on that list is "setting a positive and optimistic tone that people will gravitate to."

There were structural problems as well. John Jaggers, director of operations for the Northern Virginia Tea Party Alliance, said the Romney campaign did not use volunteers effectively, and that the campaign's insistence on a high-tech computer program, called Orca, to identify likely Romney voters failed miserably.

Tea Party activists rallied around Romney despite early skepticism of his conservative credentials. But that cohesion will be challenged in 2013 when Cuccinelli, a Tea Party darling, and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the establishment favorite, go head-to-head to become the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

If McDonnell is unsuccessful in passing the baton to a Republican, it would spell further turmoil for the state GOP.

"McDonnell's legacy will be determined by a Republican governor in 2013, and he needs to do everything in his power to unite people," Jaggers said. "Republicans can't win without us, and we can't win without them. And we've done our part every time."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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