- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2008

What’s the next step for a political party that suffered humbling defeats in November’s elections? Try a mountain retreat.

Hundreds of Virginia Republicans are converging this weekend on the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs for the Don Huffman Annual Advance. The retreat began Friday, runs through Sunday and offers the party a chance to reorganize, regroup and yes — relax.

“There is always a relaxation-slash-party element to the Advance, no question about that,” said Delegate H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican and House Majority Leader. “It’s an opportunity for us to see friends from across the state.”

The party leaders and activists likely will focus on political strategy and spar a bit following the Democrats’ dominance on Election Day: Barack Obama’s victory marked the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has won the state since 1964.

Democrats also took over the state’s open U.S. Senate seat along with two, and possibly three, seats in the state’s House delegation. Incumbent Republican Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. lost his 5th District race to Democrat Tom Perriello but requested a recount.

The losses can be attributed in part to the poor approval rating of President Bush, but also highlighted huge problems for state Republicans: How do they catch up with Democrats’ aggressive grass-roots efforts and appeal to nontraditional voting blocs?

Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said the answer lies in repackaging but remaining true to conservative values, while also working to attract new voters.

“We can’t continue to be an old-white-guy party,” Mr. Frederick said this week.

Mr. Frederick is likely to face his own fair share of criticism this weekend stemming from the election season, when the chairman publicly lamented the dismissal of his input from the campaign of presidential candidate John McCain and was thrust into the spotlight following remarks he made comparing Mr. Obama to Osama Bin Laden.

Some in the party unhappy with his leadership have called for his resignation or removal, and former state party executive director J. Kenneth Klinge recently sent a letter to Republicans criticizing Mr. Frederick on issues such as fundraising, saying he “ranks as the worst state chairman in the history of the Republican Party of Virginia.”

Mr. Klinge called on Mr. Frederick to resign, or for the party’s state central committee, which was expected to meet Friday, to remove him from office.

The Associated Press reported that a move to oust Mr. Frederick this weekend is unlikely, in part because the chairman’s critics conceded that the votes are not there.

One party source attributed the movement in part to bad blood stemming from Mr. Frederick’s unseating of former party chairman John H. Hager at the party’s convention earlier this year.

“I think they’re using the election as a platform to pick at old scabs,” the source said.

On the agenda for this weekend’s retreat are training sessions expected to focus on political party basics such as fundraising and conducting meetings .

“There’s no question we were beaten at the grass-roots level,” Mr. Griffith said. “We have to get back in there and till the soil and work hard and come back fighting.”

But the weekend won’t focus completely on the past. Attorney General Bob McDonnell — the lone Republican expected to run for governor next year — will speak to attendees Saturday, along with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who is running for re-election.

The Advance offers Mr. McDonnell an opportunity to begin laying out the themes of his gubernatorial bid.

“We’ve turned the page and are looking forward to putting together a winning campaign in 2009,” McDonnell campaign manager Phil Cox said. “This weekend is the first step in that process.”

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele — a candidate for Republican National Committee chairman — will deliver a headline speech on Saturday night.

The day also will showcase a debate between the Republican candidates for attorney general, along with a straw poll to show the party’s early favorite in the race.

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