GOP Divided Whether to Focus on 2014 or 2016

Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 09:05 AM

By Courtney Coren

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Republican strategists are divided whether the party should focus on the 2014 midterm elections or look forward to the 2016 presidential race.

"It's hard to position yourself for a presidential election when you first need to take back the Senate," Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former congressional aide, told The Wall Street Journal.  "After that happens, you're going to see a giant pivot by everyone on winning back the White House." 

But not all GOP strategists agree.

Ari Fleischer, former White House spokesman for President George W. Bush, worries that a victory in November "could be a false narcotic for Republicans" by removing the urgency that will be needed to win in 2016.

Republicans face two major challenges — the changing electorate from midterm elections to presidential elections and when to take up immigration reform.

In the 2010 midterm elections, the voters were older, more white and more favorable toward Republicans than the younger, more ethnically diverse electorate in 2012, favoring Democrats.

Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, told the Journal that one of the problems is that a large majority of Republican congressional districts tend to have large white populations, which does not reflect the need to appeal to minorities in the general electorate.

That's why several GOP strategists say that it is key that Republicans take up immigration reform soon.

Fleischer said that it is important that a win in the midterms without immigration reform doesn't lead Republicans into thinking that it isn't needed to win in 2016.

The Republican National Committee concluded in a 2012 report that Republicans "must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform . . . . If we do not, our party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only."

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said that in spite of the report's recommendation, Republicans need to find more common ground on immigration before they can begin to tackle it.

The Republican Party has expanded its Hispanic outreach staff across the country, which Priebus has said is more important than immigration reform right now.

Another voting bloc that Republicans need to address is young voters who tend to favor gay rights and the legalization of marijuana, two issues opposed by the GOP.

"If we become the party where young people roll their eyes when they see us coming, we have a problem. That has a lot to do with tolerance and open-mindedness," Fleischer told the Journal.

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