Emboldened Republicans Still Face Hurdles

Several state party chairmen here expressed reservations about applying a national litmus test for Republican candidates up and down the ballot.

Instead, Bill Crocker, a national committeeman from Texas, introduced a resolution aimed at winning majority support. The Crocker resolution requires Republican Party leaders to determine that candidates adhere to the core principles of the RNC platform before offering an endorsement or financial support. The resolution passed out of committee unanimously and will come before the full RNC for a vote Friday afternoon.

"For now the divisions are papered over. They aren't healed and could easily reemerge after Election Day success," warned former chief strategist to the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign and ABC News contributor Matthew Dowd.

The debate within the Republican Party about putting up more purely conservative candidates versus those who may stray from party orthodoxy and be considered more "big tent" style candidates is playing out in a number of competitive primaries across the country. Republican primary voters are seeing that dynamic in Senate races in New Hampshire, California, Kentucky, Colorado, and perhaps most distinctly in Florida where Gov. Charlie Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio are in a battle royale for the heart and soul of the Florida GOP.

GOP Still Needs Pieces to Fall Into Place

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is charged with recruiting Republican candidates for the House this year. He recently said that more Democrats need to retire from competitive seats, more GOP candidates need to be successfully recruited in key battleground districts, and much more money needs to come into GOP coffers for the party to take full advantage of the political environment.

Another key component to a successful GOP campaign season will be presenting credible alternative policy prescriptions to what the Democratic majorities and President Obama are offering the public.

"They need to have initiatives of their own," said Dowd.

"Just not being the Democrats is not sound electoral strategy," said Iowa GOP Chairman Strawn. "If Republicans are to regain the trust of the voters, our candidates need to provide a principled and compelling alternative that includes solutions for the challenges facing America," he added.

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill do anticipate having some sort of a "Contract with America" style set of proposals to unveil later this year on which they hope all their candidates will run.

Enthusiasm Seen at the Grassroots

It's not just the troubling poll numbers for Barack Obama's health care plan that gives Republicans hope. It's what is happening on the ground at the grassroots level, in some places fueled by tea party activism, that encouraging signs can be found.

"We noticed this in Iowa just last weekend when we held our party organizing precinct caucuses," said Chairman Strawn. "While normally a very quiet process in non-presidential years, we saw a spike in turnout and enthusiasm all across our 1,774 statewide precinct locations."

The energy and activism injected by the tea partiers into the political process certainly helped fuel Brown's victory in Massachusetts. And former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who heads up a tea party umbrella organization called Freedom Works, is on hand at the RNC meeting here to talk to party leaders about how best to harness that enthusiasm into Republican electoral gains.

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