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Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is working to bolster the communications team at the House GOP Conference, bringing in a bevy of campaign staffers with aspirations of broadening the GOP’s media outreach to new audiences such as moms, minorities and youth.
“Coming out of the 2012 election there’s a recognition among Republicans that our message was not connecting with enough people in this country. And we didn’t do as well with women, we didn’t do as well with Hispanics and minorities in general, the youth vote. So everyone has taken a step back,” the conference chairwoman said in an interview with CQ Roll Call.
The push mirrors how Republicans nationwide are grappling with their disappointing losses in November’s elections and is one of the manifestations of the ways the GOP is changing its approach on Capitol Hill.
McMorris Rodgers’ new communications team is roughly twice the size of the one in place under Rep. Jeb Hensarling, her predecessor. Hard-charging chief of staff Jeremy Deutsch led a top-to-bottom staff evaluation with outside consultant Mildred Webber that resulted in at least one firing.
Nate Hodson, who came from Karl Rove-affiliated super PAC American Crossroads, is heading up the shop as communications director, with Riva Litman as press secretary. Pam Stevens, a former director of television in the George W. Bush White House who “knows everyone,” is in charge of booking Republican lawmakers’ media spots.
Famed debate coach Brett O’Donnell has been brought in for regular media training. Two former Mitt Romney campaign staffers, John Whitman and Wadi Gaitan, are in charge of rapid response and Hispanic media outreach, respectively. Tim Cameron, a former online political consultant with a campaign background, is digital director.
Hodson said he is taking a lesson from President Barack Obama’s campaign in trying to find ways to reach voters through niche media outlets such as iVillage.com, the Internet’s leading parenting blog where Michelle Obama regularly posts.
Even more important is Hispanic media outreach, fronted by the 24-year-old Gaitan, who mans the “GOPespanol” Twitter handle and has been enlisting Republican members to participate in Spanish-language interviews.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., was an early volunteer who said he had been practicing half an hour twice a week to regain the fluency he gained from two summers in Spain in the late 1980s.
The Spanish Twitter feed encountered a bit of turbulence when Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has pushed legislation to implement English as the nation’s official language, objected, but King quickly backed off, and the rest of the GOP seems on board.