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GOP ‘shrinking,’ Davis warns party

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Virginia Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a valued statesman for congressional Republicans, says the GOP has failed to innovate and drive new ideas under President Bush, and they are now conceding much of the country to Democrats even as they tear up their own "big tent" governing coalition.

"Parties that are attracting people, that have welcome mats out, tend to do better than parties that tend to shrink and become exclusionary and have an admissions test before you can run for office," Mr. Davis told editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Tuesday, describing the path he sees Republicans taking after losing their congressional majorities in 2006.

"We tend to be shrinking right now into a ball, to get into the core, and ultimately that's not a path to victory," he said, adding that Republicans appear to be waiting for Democrats to collapse. "The theory is it gets so bad [voters] turn to us. That's not an automatic."

The former chairman of congressional Republicans' campaign committee who oversaw Republican House victories says the party must focus on the core economic message that unites them, and to strike bold positions on energy, dealing with baby boomers' retirement and defending American competitiveness.

Mr. Davis retires from Congress at the end of this year. He considered running for the open Senate seat in Virginia, but said the nomination battle with former Gov. James S. Gilmore III would have been brutal.

Mr. Gilmore won the nomination at a convention last month and faces another former governor, Mark Warner, though Mr. Davis doesn't give Mr. Gilmore much of a chance.

"He's got huge financial problems. Frankly, I said before, not on purpose, but the guy did me a favor," Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Davis said Republicans have suffered because they have failed to use "the big microphone" the presidency afforded them to drive that message home - and he laid blame on Mr. Bush's communication skills.

"He is the one best able to articulate the vision to the American public, and the reality is, and I don't mean this disrespectfully because I think the president's done some great things, but the president is just not good with the big microphone. He tends to swallow it."

Mr. Davis said Democrats have had success in two recent special congressional elections in Louisiana and Mississippi districts long held by Republicans precisely because the new majority sought out the right candidates for those districts - candidates who "would have run as Republicans 10 years ago," he said.

He said in Virginia's General Assembly, Republicans have shed seats because Democrats have found former Republican staffers and convinced them to run as Democrats. Republicans, meanwhile, have conceded entire chunks of the country, not fielding candidates in many districts - in half the districts in Massachusetts, for example.

Still, he said, Republicans are fortunate to have chosen Sen. John McCain as their presidential candidate.

"He's got to look at independent voters, and that's where they've got to focus - swing voters. He's not going to pick up many Democrats," said Mr. Davis.

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