Republicans should tackle party's blight in urban centers

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Fortunately, the party isn’t sitting idly by. With the release of its new report on the Growth & Opportunity Project, the RNC has embraced an idea that I and others championed following the 2012 loss: A city-centric pilot project to regrow our party in the country’s urban core.

It’s a small but crucial step to avoid becoming a permanent political minority. For the first time in decades, a majority of cities are growing faster than their corresponding suburbs. The Census Bureau reports that eight in ten Americans now live in urban areas. In the western half of the country, Hispanics are the most populous ethic group in most metropolitan areas; in the eastern half of the country, African-Americans are.

Amidst all this urban expansion driven by groups that were once minorities, Republicans are woefully under-represented. Card-carrying members of the GOP comprise just six percent of the elected city council members in the country’s three largest cities. Just two mayors in the top 25 most populated cities are Republicans. These cities represent 35 million people, or 11 percent of the population.

Republicans must create more pathways to victory that include these urban areas; otherwise, as cities grow, the strong Democrat urban base squeezes the GOP’s traditional formula for victory in non-urban communities. That’s exactly what happened in November: In the critical swing state of Ohio, Mitt Romney lost Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) by nearly 40 percentage points, a defeat so overwhelming that he was unable to cover it with winning margins in other counties.

Here’s how the pilot project could work.

Step one is to find the urban dwellers who are voting for us. It might be a small remnant, but this “bright spot” of Republican voters gives us a grassroots base of embedded support to target resources.

Step two is connecting with new residents. The party’s message of reform and good governance is a natural fit for the young professionals relocating to cities for employment opportunities and an urban lifestyle. A young professional organization I co-founded in Washington, DC has as its mission the recruitment and retention of future party leaders and candidates. Other cities should follow suit with similar-minded efforts.

Step three is to take the Republican message into all neighborhoods of the city, especially those neighborhoods with Latino and African American residents. We must create opportunities to educate all residents about our history as a civil rights party that values hard work and commitment to family, and is not opposed to programs and policies to help take care of “the least of these.”

We should identify a handful of cities in key swing states to test our plan during big city mayoral races this year. To measure results, we can poll (at six-month and one-year intervals) a test neighborhood and control neighborhood with similar demographics and voting history. We could refine what works and then launch in other cities, even carrying these message into urban areas that will factor heavily in the 2014 gubernatorial races.

Establishing an active Republican urban base will minimize losses at the national level and even create some opportunities for conservative governance on a local level. Of course, residents of urban areas with a historic aversion to the GOP won’t change their minds overnight. But four years from now, we’ll either have a small number of new converts and a plan to win more, or we’ll be stuck at our current status quo as a non-urban party.  I, for one, am ready to begin a new era of Republican urban enlightenment.

Homan is the Republican National Committeewoman for Washington, D.C. She served as co-chairwoman for the Romney-Ryan campaign in the District.

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