The fundamentals of their decline here are depressingly familiar to Republicans.
Just two members of New England’s congressional delegation hail from their party. President Obama swept the region last November against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who also owns a home in New Hampshire. On a map of the 2012 results, the closest Romney state to New England is West Virginia.
But Republicans are meeting in Boston this week, trying to remake their party as a more inclusive, forward-thinking entity. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, talking with reporters on the first day of the RNC’s summer meeting at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel, called it the “happy warrior” model.
Perhaps the party’s most visible embodiment of that ethos, relishing political combat, is Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who will address a closed-door luncheon Thursday. Considered one of the party’s strongest prospective 2016 presidential candidates, Christie has been outspoken in criticizing fellow Republicans who have voiced doubts about aggressive national security data monitoring programs.
RNC members said they were uncertain what Christie’s message would be. The New Jersey governor has taken flack from other Republicans for allegedly being too cozy with Democrats like Obama, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the Democratic nominee for Senate in New Jersey.
But Rhode Island GOP chair Mark Smiley praised Christie’s “animal magnetism,” and members said they were looking forward to Christie’s remarks.
“I think they want to hear what he thinks of the current state of things post-election,’’ said Massachusetts GOP chair Kirsten Hughes. “That’s what I’m looking to hear him say. I would like to hear if he’s going to run.”
The meeting gives the GOP a stage to continue restructuring efforts after a second straight presidential loss, at the hands of a president many considered eminently vulnerable. Republicans hope to increase their House majority and retake the Senate. The three-day agenda is heavy on data and technology training, as the GOP looks to close a deficit in that sphere that has opened up during the Obama years.
At a Wednesday luncheon, Priebus and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who provided Romney with one of his stiffest tests during last year’s Republican primary, emphasized the need to modernize the party and expand its appeal to demographic groups — including African-Americans, Latinos, and younger people — that have been cornerstones of the Democratic coalition.
“I think part of what we have to do, in the era of Obama’s disaster, we have to get beyond being anti-Obama and we have to reconvince people that you can have hope in America,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich described stressing a positive future as a prudent electoral strategy for taking on Hillary Clinton, regarded as the most potent prospective Democratic presidential candidate.
“I don’t think we beat Hillary Clinton in a personality fight, because the news media will prop her up,” Gingrich said.
The former speaker blamed congressional Republicans for offering “zero answer” to the question of how to replace President Obama’s health care law.
Priebus said the party needed to work harder to court Latino voters, rather than making appeals just before elections.
“I think part of our problem as a party is that we haven’t shown up,’’ Priebus said. “I think if you’re going to get the sale, you’ve got to ask for the order.”
The party had tentatively scheduled the meeting for Chicago but decided to relocate to Boston after the Marathon bombings on April 15 as a show of support for the city. Priebus said he also wanted to send a message that the party has not thrown up its hands at the prospect of competing in the region.
“We need more red in New England if we’re going to be a serious national party,” he said.
After Christie’s speech Thursday, former senator Scott Brown and Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania will host a reception at Fenway Park. Governor Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico is the marquee speaker at Friday’s luncheon.