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Republican chairman predicts 'tsunami' victory in November

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, outlined Tuesday how the GOP is expanding its presence in minority communities and emphasizing issues like Obamacare.

Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speaks at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The November midterms will be a “tsunami” for the Republicans, says the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

"I think that we're in for a tsunami-type election in 2014,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus told reporters Tuesday at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “My belief is that it's going to be a very big win, especially at the US Senate level, and I think we may even add some seats in the congressional races.”

The next step, Mr. Priebus says, will be to take the “positives and benefits that we’ve been able to provide in 2014 and build on that to have success in 2016,” the next presidential election.

Since the Republican defeat in 2012, the RNC has invested in infrastructure in the states and in its use of data for voter outreach. Last week’s Republican victory in a special House election in Florida and the recent Republican victory in the San Diego mayor’s race provide evidence that the investment is bearing fruit, Priebus says.

But issues are also a big factor, starting with Obamacare – and they will go a long way toward boosting Republican support among demographic groups that have been Democratic strongholds, the RNC chair says.

"I'm just guessing here, but I think among youth and women, you're going to see the greatest increase in 2014 because of, No. 1, Obamacare,” Priebus says. “I think it is very, very, very personal among women.”

Losing access to one’s doctor or having one’s insurance canceled – those will drive voters into the Republican camp, especially single, working women over age 35, he says. And then there are the young voters, those under 35 whose purchase of health insurance is crucial to the success of the Affordable Care Act. Younger Americans’ premiums are needed to help subsidize the care of older, less healthy people.

“Obamacare was intentionally designed to screw young people over,” Priebus says. “I mean, actuaries sat down in a room and figured out how they were going to pay for this monstrosity of a program, and they decided, let's just screw over everyone who is 35 or younger. And that's what they did."

The immigration issue has hurt the Republican Party, especially among Latino and Asian voters, who went heavily for President Obama in 2012. Priebus has stated that he’d like to see the Republicans go from 27 percent support among Latinos to 35 percent. But, he has acknowledged, the party needs to come across as more welcoming to immigrants and as interested in reforming the nation’s immigration system.

"But I would also caution you not to impose your definition of what comprehensive immigration reform is,” he says. “There's a general agreement that we need to have serious immigration reform, but I don't believe that there's general agreement as to what that reform is. And I don't think there is general agreement in either party."

The GOP has expanded its presence in minority communities. Now, 91 percent of the RNC’s political staff is based outside the Washington headquarters, including data directors and “minority engagement staffers” in all the states with competitive races in 2014.

"As a campaign committee, I think our most fundamental issue is being in communities, and in many cases communities that we don't represent in Congress, in the assembly, or in the state senate in those particular communities,” Priebus says. “So it is incumbent upon the national party to put people I believe from communities in those communities to help address I think a major communication gap that we have in those places.”

The Republicans are also enhancing their use of publicly available data to target voters. Generally, he says, the party has about 300 points of data on voters – data that come from the census and other public records, such as lists of people with hunting licenses. Voters are assessed in their likely intensity of support for a Republican candidate, and high-intensity Republican voters are asked to contact those who might be persuadable.

Priebus steers clear of blaming anyone in particular for allowing the RNC to fall behind in its use of modern political outreach techniques. He offers a more general critique.

“I would just say slowly over time, the RNC had become basically a 'U-Haul' trailer of cash that gets hooked up to a presidential nominee for a short period of time, and then the national party went away again for three years,” he says. “And I am saying that that circular problem has caused us to atrophy in a big way across the country. And that right there is what I am trying to address as chairman of the party.”

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