- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2015

Republican presidential hopefuls are determined to wipe away the stain of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments from the 2012 campaign, saying the party must find ways to connect with voters of all economic classes if it wants to win the White House.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said this weekend that Mr. Romney’s remarks, caught on a recording at a high-dollar fundraiser, cost Republicans the presidential election.

Even Mr. Romney has distanced himself as he prepares for a third run at the White House. He said the Republican Party needs to find ways to connect with middle-class families that are struggling to make ends meet.

“Until you know people care, they aren’t going to listen to you,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi. “That applies to both Democrats and Republicans.”

In the 2012 video recording, Mr. Romney said 47 percent of voters were dependent upon government and would not waver in their support of President Obama. Mr. Romney said his “job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and are for themselves.”

The remarks hurt Mr. Romney’s campaign, and Republicans are intent on preventing a repeat.

“The reason Republicans lost can be summed up in two words: ‘47 percent,’” Mr. Cruz said this weekend at the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce conference in Palm Springs, California. “The central narrative of the last election — what the voters heard was, “We don’t have to worry about the 47 percent. And I think Republicans are and should be the party of the 47 percent.”

Exit polls from 2012 show Republicans have reason to be worried. Mr. Obama was favored over Mr. Romney by a 63-point margin when voters were asked which candidate “cares about people like me.”

“I think part of the challenge that Romney ran into, and the reason the 47 percent comment stuck, was that he was simply doing a referendum on the president,” said David Winston, a Republican Party pollster. “So there was no sense that he had an agenda to address problems that people were concerned about.”

Conservative activists Saturday at the Iowa Freedom Summit applauded Donald Trump when he said Republicans should reject Mr. Romney’s effort to win the nomination again.

“The 47 percent statement that he made, that’s not going away,” he said.

Other Republicans at the forum were eager to prove that they had learned from Mr. Romney’s mistake.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses, said the next nominee needs to avoid finger-pointing at voters.

“We don’t win because too many people think we don’t care about them,” he said. “We have to show them not just by saying we do, but by having policies and a message where they can see it and they can feel it in us.”

At times, Republican contenders seem to borrow from Democrats’ list of priorities by saying the economy is squeezing the middle class and highlighting income inequality and wage stagnation.

The Republican candidates’ solutions, though, involve less federal spending, less taxation on business and families, and less regulation. They also have called for more school choice, more job training and more affordable tuition, saying a stronger education system is key to putting people on a path to economic well-being.

Gov. Scott Walker touted his record of accomplishments in Wisconsin as a model for dealing with problems on the national level.

Mr. Walker said the “common-sense conservative reforms” adopted on his watch led to a fully funded retirement system and strengthened schools by allowing the state to hire the most qualified teachers, fire the worst ones and pay educators based on their performance, not seniority.

“As conservatives, we shouldn’t take a back seat when it comes to education reform because we actually care about the quality of the education in our classroom, not the size of the education bureaucracy,” Mr. Walker said.

Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said Republicans will continue having problems in presidential elections until they change their policies.

“They can run from his words, but they’re embracing the same callous agenda,” he said. “They still embrace tax loopholes for big corporations, refuse to ask wealthy Americans to pay their fair share. At the same time, they oppose our calls for free community college and an increase in the minimum wage.”

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