Report: GOP needs to make big changes

Republican Party aims to fix image ahead of 2016 elections

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new report from the Republican National Committee shows the party needs to make some big changes to its image heading into 2016, especially when it comes to inclusion.

"I want everybody in our party -- African-Americans, Hispanics, gay -- I want them to be voting Republicans in the state of Florida," Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry said.

Scary and out of touch is how people polled said they describe the Republican Party in a new report released by the GOP.

The party says it's looking at what went wrong in 2012 so it can try to fix the issues ahead of 2016.

"I think we're not communicating to people in a way that they can understand and hear. We need to take our message of smaller government, lower taxes to the youth, Hispanic, to every American," said Florida Federation for Republican Women's Cindy Graves.

Among the core issues are connecting with women and minority voters, working on immigration, and even changing how the party picks a presidential nominee.

The report was to be topic of discussion Monday night when Duval County Republicans were to meet. In it, the Republican party admits it needs to strengthen its message, be more inclusive, and even going as far to say that if something doesn't change, it may be hard to win the White House.

In the 98-page report, there are no shortage of issues the party says it needs to work out to be successful in 2016.

Their new meaning for GOP is Growth and Opportunity Project. It touches on everything from messaging to the primary process.

But for Curry what stood out most were suggestions to keep up with the country's changing demographics.

"If we don't widen our party and have a bigger tent and bring in young people, African-Americans, Hispanics, people of all backgrounds, then as a party we will die a very slow and a very painful death," he said.

Of about 4.2 million registered Republicans in Florida, around 83 percent are white, 11 percent are Hispanic, and a little more than 1 percent are African-American.

Compare that with registered Democrats in the state, where around 53 percent are white, about 13 percent are Hispanic, and 28 percent are African-American.

Clay County Republican Party Chair Leslie Dougher says Republican values resonate with all people, but the challenge is getting the word out.

"I think we have a wonderful, positive message. It's just how do you convey that to a larger group of people to be more inclusive," Dougher said. "And I think that's getting out into the community."

That's just one of the report's suggestions, along with being more engaging and sincere, even starting an inclusion council.

But Dr. Marcella Washington, political science professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville, says inclusion will take more than a change in message, but also a change in policy, especially in social issues such as marriage equality, abortion and civil rights.

"If they are willing to move a little bit and open the doors to minorities, interest groups, Hispanics, African-Americans, women and their choices, and gay rights, I think the Republican Party can do itself a favor," Washington said.

The report didn't touch on many policy issues, only immigration, saying, "We must embrace and champion immigration reform."

But Curry says everyone should still feel welcome despite disagreements on policy.

"I believe that we as a party can stand on our principles, and people will still join us and vote for us if they don't agree with us 100 percent of the time if they know that we care and they know that we are ultimately the party of opportunity," Curry said.

The report also touched on the way the party would campaign. It suggests moving up the 2016 convention to as early as June so the party nominee can tap general-election funding earlier; and limiting the number of primary debates to 10 or 12 rather than the nearly two dozen during the last presidential primary season.

Of the things Republicans are proud of, according to the report, they hold governorships in 30 states, and they say they routinely win a much larger share of the minority vote than Republican presidential candidates. They say it's time for Republicans on a federal level to learn from them.

Channel 4 spoke with many Republicans Monday night who agreed that the GOP needs improvement. 

"I believe that we didn't have a good message for the Hispanic community (in the last election)," said Hector Sanchez, a Republican volunteer. "Even though I had two Hispanic volunteers with me, a guy from Nicaragua and a Cuban guy."

Billie Tucker, a member of the Tea Party, told Channel 4 not all conservatives will enthusiastically react to the suggestions.

"There's a lot of discussion between conservatives and establishment. And I think there's going to be a little bit of a war. I don't think conservatives will fall to the wayside and say okay we're going to accept these things you want. I don't think they will they're going to stand up," said Billie Tucker, a member of the Tea Party.