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Originally published Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 12:15 AM

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GOP policy group launched outside RNC

Republican political figures in recent days announced policy programs to challenge President Barack Obama's agenda and to counter perceptions that the GOP is a listless, leaderless "party of no."

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON —

Republican political figures in recent days announced policy programs to challenge President Barack Obama's agenda and to counter perceptions that the GOP is a listless, leaderless "party of no."

In doing so, they're highlighting their differences with the Republican National Committee's political strategy.

House and Senate Republican lawmakers were the latest to launch a group independent of the RNC, announcing the formation of the National Council for a New America late Wednesday through aides and in a letter going out to supporters Thursday.

The group comprises potential GOP presidential candidates who plan town hall-style meetings to promote ideas different from Obama's. Their aides and allies have been vexed by the lack of comprehensive alternatives put forward by the national Republican leadership.

"One of the things that's constantly stated by the Obama administration spokesman is that the Republicans are the 'party of no,' and that the conservatives don't have ideas," said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose brother, President George W. Bush, many blame for the party's unpopularity. "But conservatives, in general, have not done a great job on putting forward their ideas."

The lawmakers' group includes Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain. Republican aides on Capitol Hill disclosed the group Wednesday just before Obama started a news conference to mark his first 100 days in office.

It and a similar group - Resurgent Republic, a collection of the party's senior strategists - are meant to be a Republican roadshow outside Washington's circus tent.

Notably absent from either group's rosters are the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has his own policy group. Others mentioned as potential 2012 candidates and missing are South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, although the latter is a close McCain ally.

"It's no secret that we're in a seriously troubling time for the Republicans," said Mike Murphy, a strategist who has advised Romney and McCain but isn't involved in the new policy groups. "The idea is to put the focus on what really matters the most in the long-term: the intellectual property of the party."

To that end, these groups plan to illustrate the GOP's positions through real-life examples of how their ideas could help voters outside Washington. The Congress-based group plans to have their first event this weekend in Virginia.

Both groups underscore twin troubles facing Republicans: New RNC Chairman Michael Steele has chosen not to have a serious in-house policy shop, and Democrats, who have an entire administration full of experts, have painted the GOP as a group of naysayers who don't forward their own agenda.

"The American people are looking for new ideas and a new direction for the country, not more beltway PR gimmicks," said DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan. "You can take the 'party of no' out of Washington, but if all of you offer is more reflexive partisan opposition and a new package for the same old failed ideas, you're not taking the Washington out of the 'party of no.'"

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It's been a gibe that has peeved Republicans since their nominee, McCain, lost the White House in November and they slipped further into the minority in Congress.

"It is the notion that the Republican Party is not about ideas (that is) coming down from on-high in Washington," said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the GOP's No. 2 lawmaker in the House and a leader of the new council.

Resurgent Republic opened its doors this week, intending to push back against the "party of no" accusation. Among the free-market group's leaders are former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie and pollster Whit Ayres. Other advisers include a former counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney, Mary Matalin, and former Rep. Vin Weber. Barbour and former Sen. George Allen - a long-shot 2012 candidate - also have a hand in the group.

Both groups insist they are not political. But Cantor notes: "I don't think there's any question that the agenda being promoted by the White House and Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi will be part of that."

Organizers say it is an effort to strengthen the GOP voting bloc by attracting independents and young voters. It might be the only way to confront Obama's lock on young voters, who overwhelmingly supported his candidacy in the presidential primaries and general election.

"They overwhelmingly supported President Reagan too," said Barbour, a former RNC chairman. "Young voters move around in the electorate just like other voters do."

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On the Net:

Resurgent Republic: http://www.resurgentrepublic.com/

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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