John Hudak, managing editor of the Brooking Institution's FixGov blog, went to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), reportedly a convention of Republican conservatives looking to figure out how to win elections. This year's conference opened today. Hudak headed to a panel on minority voter outreach. This is what he saw:
He later blogged about the experience:
The panel included Virginia Senate candidate Ed Gillespie and a panel of Republican political strategists: Jason Roe, Elroy Sailor, and Robert Woodson. The panel delivered a remarkably pointed review of GOP voter outreach (largely its failures) and explained, in very straightforward terms, how the party can (and must) do better. However, the most revealing part of the experience was not what happened on stage, but what happened off stage, and reflects the national electoral struggles Republicans are facing.
About ten minutes into the panel, I snapped a photo (shown above) of a largely empty ballroom. The lack of attendance for the panel is a huge loss and missed opportunity for participants. CPAC brings together some of the Republican Party's most passionate, engaged, and eager members. The people who attend the meetings run campaigns, volunteer for issue-based efforts and candidates' campaigns. They are leadership in an army of grassroots conservatism. The panel of Gillespie, Roe, Sailor and Woodson was there to address a basic question: how do we grow our ranks in areas where we traditionally underperform?
The advice was solid. Woodson explained that one problem is that "we don't have a ground game" particularly in minority neighborhoods. Sailor eloquently noted a key to Republican success: "We don't have to abandon our existing friends to make new ones." The message was simple. Republicans don't necessarily have to change their values. They have to change how they talk about the issues and who they talk to. That takeaway is not a tall order, but something doable, something digestible. And, most notably, there are people in the party who know how to do it.
I looked up CPAC's schedule and didn't see any particularly amazing counterprogramming to explain the lack of interest. Hudak noted that the room eventually did fill up, but only because the panel ran late and people started pouring in to hear Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, speak. He was a big hit, of course.
Over at Reason 24/7 we have links to coverage of all the major CPAC activity today.