With its party struggling to define itself, a group of prominent Republicans launched a listening tour Saturday in a bid to boost the GOP's sagging image and regroup for future elections.
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., held a town-hall style meeting at a pizza restaurant in the Democratic suburb of Arlington, Va., to hear about people's concerns on issues from the economy and health care to the rising costs of college tuition.
"You can't beat something with nothing, and the other side has something," Bush told a group of about 100 people at the Pie-Tanza pizza parlor. "I don't like it, but they have it and we have to be respectful and mindful of that.
"I hope across the country people will be excited about the prospect of sharing their ideas to bring about a better America," he said.
Meeting comes after bad week
It was the first meeting of the GOP group National Council for a New America, which was created to rebrand the party's image. The meeting comes after a bad week in which Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter announced he was switching to the Democratic party and Democrat Scott Murphy won a close U.S. House race in a GOP district in upstate New York.
An Associated Press-GfK poll released in April shows that Democrats outnumber Republicans by 46 percent to 28 percent, including those leaning toward either party.
The national council, which plans listening sessions in other cities, also includes Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Sen. John McCain. Republican aides on Capitol Hill disclosed the group this past Wednesday just before Obama started a news conference to mark his first 100 days in office. The group is partly highlighting their differences with the Republican National Committee's political strategy.
That group and a similar one — Resurgent Republic, a collection of the party's senior strategists — are meant to be Republican roadshows outside Washington's circus tent.
'Bread and butter' issues
Still, notably absent from either group's rosters are the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has his own policy group. Others mentioned as potential 2012 candidates and missing are South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, although the latter is a close McCain ally.
Cantor said he wanted to focus the meeting on "bread and butter" issues such as the rising costs of education and health care, which resonate the most with Americans right now.
"These are discussions that need to occur with the American people of any political stripe," he said. "We need to make sure, the discussions, I believe, should be focused on the principles that have made America great — the principles of freedom and opportunity."