GOP alters strategy with an eye on reclaiming Congress

The Republican Party is addressing the upcoming mid-term elections by refining its messaging to focus on core conservative issues that will sway voters, especially independents.

The Republican Party is addressing the upcoming mid-term elections by refining its messaging to focus on core conservative issues that will sway voters, especially independents. The goal, say party communicators, is to recreate the recent victories in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts on a national scale.

The political climate in Washington, coupled with the general public's weariness of the nation's economic woes, is providing the party with a distinct opportunity to regain control of Congress.

Establishing leadership
David All, president of the David All Group, says: "You can't ignore the environment, the economy, and this lack of excitement around Barack Obama from folks who may have been excited about him before."

Yet the Republicans - a party effectively without a leader, let's not forget - still face challenges in unifying its message and effectively using social media to influence constituents enough to topple the Democratic hold on Washington.

"[The Republicans] are not showing leadership, which Americans really want," says Democratic strategist Tom McMahon.

The GOP's overarching message is the need for private-sector growth, which will fuel the economic recovery, says Republican strategist Ed Gillespie.

"Republicans will emphasize that in this election, as well as concern on debt and its impact on future generations," he explains.

Ken Spain, communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, is focusing on how Democrats appear more interested in ex-panding the role of government, at the expense of creating jobs.

"The Republican message is far more potent as this stage," he says. "A potent message can overcome a financial disadvantage."

Gillespie and Spain agreed that Democratic candidates have more funding than Republicans, which may mitigate what they say could be a strong showing by the GOP in November.

The mid-terms also represent the first election cycle in which the Republican Party may use social media to the same scale as Democrats, many of whom cited President Obama's use of this as crucial to his 2008 victory.

"That is probably the biggest difference between this cycle and the last," says Spain. "The overwhelming majority of our candidates are utilizing social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube."

The Republican National Committee is working with state parties to create a comprehensive web strategy, adds All. It also notably used Twitter to drive messaging about Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), creating the hashtag #askgibbs in May, says Doug Heye, the Committee's communications director. Ses-tak had said the White House offered him a job in return for not running against Democrat Arlen Specter in the Senate race.

He adds: "The media certainly isn't as smitten with the Republican Party as much as it is with Obama. That's a challenge, but it just means we must work harder to make our case and get information in front of reporters - and then call them out if they don't use that information."

The Republican National Committee in particular spent the former part of the year dealing with news reports about its own staff turnover and lavish spending. But, even with the Committee considered representative of the Republican Party, communicators say the brand issue will not affect voter decisions in November.

Appealing to voters
"The commentary and the fascination with staff changes is a Washington parlor game," says Gillespie. "When voters in Delaware, Illinois, Colorado, Arkansas, and Texas cast a vote, they're not thinking: 'Who's the new deputy communications director at the Republican National Committee?'"

Media coverage gave the Committee an unexpected opportunity to build credibility with constituents by reaching out to them directly and quickly on staff turnover and spending, notes Heye.

But even as the GOP aims to unify its messaging and digital strategies, it is still seen as a party without a prominent leader, which may play into Obama's hands.

"Because of the economic situation the President inherited, tough choices must be made," says McMahon. "And the White House is showing a lot of leadership in addressing those problems."

Views from both sides of the aisle

Republican Doug Heye

"People are not only noticing that we are driving a message, but also how we're driving that message. So, social media is indeed very important."

Democrat Tom McMahon

"There's the Tea Party factor: they have really charged up a group of individuals with issues mainstream Americans don't subscribe to. Overall, that hurts their brand."

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