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Youth Is Served in Senate GOP

But over the past few years, that dynamic has changed, and McConnell, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) have openly pushed their Members to adapt.

Murkowski and Thune could represent the GOP’s best hope in beginning to move toward a new, more cooperative and less confrontational approach, Republicans said.

Murkowski “can find partners across the aisle. She can make intelligent judgments” without sacrificing principle, Ueland noted. “And that’s frankly not something Republicans have had to do for a long time.”

Murkowski chalked up her ability to find common ground with Democrats and her appeal to a broader audience to the political realities of her home state of Alaska. Murkowski noted that the state is undergoing a political transformation similar to the one that is taking place across the country, as the state’s original political titans — most of whom are Republicans and included her father, former Sen. and Gov. Frank Murkowski — leave public office.

The new generation of leaders in Alaska has found that it has a much more complex reality to deal with, Murkowski said, given the growing number of minorities in the state and the fact that the state is heavily unionized despite the population’s conservative bent.

“We’re not assuming that this base we’re talking about is the base that our fathers were talking to,” she said. In order to address the needs of that shifting base of voters, Republicans in the state and nationally have to adjust not so much what they say, she said, but how they interact with voters, putting increased importance on “how we’re getting that message through to the people that we represent.”

Thune spent much of his six years in the House aligned closely with the party’s conservative wing — and remains a favorite of conservative activists — but he has honed his policy chops in the Senate, pursuing a largely fiscal agenda.

Thune said it is difficult, particularly for conservatives, to strike the right balance in Congress between ideological purity and the need to get things done.

“It’s hard being a conservative working in government ... [but] there is a practical reality that some on our side don’t always understand,” he said.

A former senior GOP leadership aide said Thune and Murkowski are the perfect tonic for what ails Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“Thune is a terrific face for the party, which frankly there are not a heck of a lot in leadership. ... He also is perceived as being a pretty reasonable figure,” the former aide said. As for Murkowski, this Republican said that in addition to being “a female face and maybe a more moderating influence ... she’s also somebody who’s had a lot of experience with energy policy, and that’s a big part of the Republican platform right now.”

Thune and Murkowski embody “very well what Senate Republicans want to be,” the aide added.

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