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Mitt Romney: What young Republicans learned from his campaign

Mitt Romney held up a mirror to the GOP in the last election. What young Republicans learned from the Mitt Romney run, and what they propose to win the 2016 vote.

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The GOP still controls the U.S. House, holds 30 governor's seats and stands a reasonable chance of regaining control of the U.S. Senate in the 2014 elections. But 2012 presidential returns justify concern.

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Whites, who represent a shrinking share of the electorate, accounted for about 9 out of 10 Romney votes. Obama won Latinos by about 44 percentage points and African-Americans by 85 points. Those groups together accounted for almost one-quarter of all voters.

Among whites, younger age ranges trended more toward Obama. Voters from 18 to 29 years old opted for the president over Romney by a 60-37 margin. Among those age 30 to 44, Obama claimed 52 percent, 7 percentage points more than Romney.

Some Republican strategists say that Obama, as the first black president, set the high-water mark for Democrats among nonwhite voters. Weingartner said the 51-year-old president twice faced much older opponents, a circumstance that could be reversed in 2016. Of several potential GOP candidates, only Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 63, is older than 50.

The Democrats' leading hopefuls are Vice President Joe Biden, 70, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 65.

"We have youth and enthusiasm on our side this time," Weingartner said, though he added that it would be foolish to pin GOP hopes on age.

Speaking to delegates, Priebus promised a "50-state strategy" that involves hiring workers to engage minority communities. "We can't win if we just show up four months before a presidential election every four years," he said.

Garcia, the Chicago Republican, said that model, patterned after Obama's use of neighborhood-based networks, will identify new supporters. But he said the outreach needs a foundation of specifics.

Expanding legal immigration, Garcia said, could make it harder for Democrats to frame Republicans as "anti-immigrant," a label several Republicans said Romney cemented by advocating "self-deportation." After remaking legal immigration, Weingartner said House leaders could realize, as part of a border security plan, that the border will never be completely secure, while getting Democrats to consent to a "path to legal status" rather than a "path to citizenship."

That approach, both men said, would increase the likelihood that Latinos listen to Republican arguments for low taxes, light regulation and individual opportunity.

Darius Foster, a black business consultant in Alabama, said he encounters similar trust issues among African-Americans, who have overwhelmingly supported Democrats since the civil rights movement.

"I never have to defend Republican principles," he said. "I have to defend Republicans." That's even harder, he said, since neighboring Shelby County, south of Birmingham, successfully challenged part of the Voting Rights Act.

A strategy for social issues isn't as clear, given that younger voters generally are more liberal on those issues than is the GOP platform.

Of course, there's no guarantee of nuanced approaches from elected officials.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told delegates that strong opposition to the Senate's immigration push will help Republicans win working-class votes because some wages would fall at first in an expanded labor pool.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley urged House Republicans to "stand strong" against Obama.

Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama, 37, told her fellow Young Republicans that a major problem is "low-information voters ... who have not been exposed to our arguments." She added: "We win not by changing our policies but by spending more time and energy convincing people we are right."

All three got standing ovations.

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Follow Bill Barrow on Twitter @BillBarrowAP

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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