New GOP head to seek new voters among base

Ken Mehlman, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee pauses as he prepares to address the crowd at the Republican National Committee Wednesday in Washington.

AP Photo/Stephen J. Boitano
Published: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 10:21 p.m.
WASHINGTON - White House ally Ken Mehlman took over leadership of the Republican Party on Wednesday and outlined plans to find new voters among the ranks of churchgoers and social conservatives.
"We can deepen the GOP by identifying and turning out Americans who vote for president but who often miss off-year elections and agree with our work on behalf of a culture of life, our promoting marriage, and a belief in our Second Amendment heritage," Mehlman said, referring to the party's opposition to abortion, gay marriage and gun control.
Bush's re-election campaign, headed by Mehlman, worked with the Republican National Committee in 2004 to target conservatives, independents and moderate Democrats who had rarely voted in past elections. Bush became the first president since 1936 to be re-elected while his party expanded majorities in the House and Senate. Republican governors head 28 states, including the four largest.
Accepting the chairmanship on the eve of Bush's inauguration, he said the party must take four steps to "cement these victories into a durable Republican majority:"
  • Enact the president's agenda, including fighting terrorism, revamping Social Security, changing the tax code and appointing "strict constructionists to the courts."
  • Institutionalize the GOP's 2004 grass-roots operation, which most experts believe was far better than the Democrats'.
  • Recruit quality candidates for the 2005 and 2006 elections. He also urged RNC members to start focusing on the 2008 presidential campaign and, further down the road, the 2011 redistricting process.
  • Use the GOP agenda to court new voters: Blacks through school voucher initiatives, young voters through Social Security changes and Hispanics through efforts to limit legal liability.
    As for conservatives, he said, "When we debate who should sit on the judiciary, we have an opportunity to deepen the GOP by registering to vote men and women who attend church every week but aren't yet registered voters."
    Activists in both parties are watching to see whether Bush will continue to push a conservative agenda or move to the political center. Mehlman seemed to suggest that Bush didn't need to make a choice, that he would appeal to a wide spectrum of voters.
    Some social conservatives were upset this month when Bush suggested he wouldn't push Congress to pass a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
    In the text of Mehlman's remarks released by the RNC, he took a veiled shot at Bush rival Sen. John Kerry, saying voters were asked to choose between "victory and vacillation" in the war on terror. But Mehlman deleted the remark when giving the address.
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