- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

Top Republican leaders seeking to stabilize their battered party said Thursday that they have formed a new national group to try to reconnect Republicans to the voters who have fled from their ranks.

Dubbed the National Council for a New America (NCNA), the organization will be run outside the traditional Republican National Committee structure and will hold its first town-hall-style session Saturday in Arlington.

“The NCNA will be a dynamic, forward-looking organization that will amplify the common-sense and wisdom of our fellow citizens through a grassroots dialogue with Republican leaders,” the organization said in a letter announcing its formation.

The group is spearheaded by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, the leaders are the top Republicans in Congress and their “national panel of experts” is made up of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

“This is not a Contract with America. This is a conversation with America,” Mr. McCain said in a conference call. Contract with America was the strategy behind the 1994 Republican takeover.

The group said its goal is to go beyond the Republican conversation and try to listen to what Americans want - though the leaders insist it’s not about rebranding their party.

“This forum will include a wide open policy debate that every American can feel free to participate in. We do this not just to offer an alternative point of view or to be disagreeable. Instead, we want to ask the American people what their hopes and dreams are,” the letter said, adopting some of Mr. Obama’s “hope” and “change” rhetoric from his campaign.

Republicans have been battered in the 2006 and 2008 elections, but their problems run much deeper. They have lost a series of special congressional elections in traditionally Republican areas, and their national party operation has had a rough go under new Chairman Michael S. Steele.

Adding to their woes, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced this week that he would switch parties and become a Democrat. He pointed to the shrinking number of voters who identify themselves as Republicans as a key factor in his decision.

The Democratic National Committee poked at the new group from the side, noting who was in and who was out. In an e-mail, the DNC pointed out that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was not part of the group, nor was Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was the party’s vice presidential nominee last year.

Mr. McCain told reporters Mrs. Palin was consulted on the project, and Mr. Cantor told Fox News he’d spoken with Mr. Gingrich.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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