From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
The top-ranking Senate Republican gave a speech to the Republican National Committee -- a day before the body elects a chairman -- that was one part tough medicine, one part pep talk.
The party's outlook is grim, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell implored, as he rolled off figure after figure of demographic groups Republicans lost badly in 2008, particularly blacks and Hispanics.
He lamented that the party is increasingly becoming a "regional party."
"That's called a minority party," the Senate Minority Leader said, "and I didn't sign up to be in the minority party."
But McConnell didn't necessarily go the way of the Tim Pawlentys of the world in calling for the party to own issues like health care and education. There was no call to action for the 168 listening committee members at the Capitol Hilton hotel downtown -- just a couple of blocks from the White House now occupied by Democrat Barack Obama -- except for saying it was going to take hard work.
Instead, he told them the party needs to stay true to its values. Republicans shouldn't sell short their ideals, he said, they just need to do a better job of selling them. In other words, the party needs to adapt, but it doesn't have to change.
McConnell highlighted as a Republican success, the story of Anh "Joseph" Cao, a Vietnamese-born lawyer who won in a traditionally Democratic district in Louisiana.
He called Cao "a classic example of Republican activist outreach." (What McConnell failed to mention was that Cao ran against a guy who was found to have $90,000 stuffed in his freezer.)
Mike Duncan, the current RNC chairman up for reelection, was downright giddy about the party's prospects.
"We are off the mat," he boasted to the crowd, using the podium as a bit of a bully pulpit for his own reelection bid, as he countered the notion that the GOP needs to dust itself off.
Duncan contended the party did so starting the day after Election Day, and put up as examples elections won in Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and even a state legislative seat in Delaware.
Going forward, though, how does the Republican Party win back a majority and win back the White House?
"The Democratic Party will choke on the bone of responsibility," he said, adding that the RNC has to make sure the Republican Party is worth coming back to when that happens.
In the dark
Duncan addressed a committee member about the party's budget for social networking, as the member cited the party getting out-maneuvered in the election from a grassroots technology standpoint.
Duncan, though, defended the RNC, saying it has "50,000" on their "social network" (presumably, he means Facebook) -- more than the Democrats, he contended. He went so far as to boast of a 12-million-strong e-mail list.
Obama's grassroots online organization has been widely reported on; his 13-million member e-mail list, used to mobilize activists and raise money during the campaign, has been the envy of Republicans. Republican pollster Frank Luntz, in fact, lambasted the party over the issue in an impassioned talk at the Republican Governors Association conference in Miami in November.
Almost immediately after Duncan finished trying to convince the members of the party's hip, social networking prowess, the lights in the room, went out.
The Republicans, literally, were in the dark.
"Maybe we forgot to pay the electric bill," Duncan quipped.
Another interesting moment during the question-and-answer session came when North Carolina Party Chair Linda Daves rose to ask if there was a budget for clothing candidates, an obvious -- and sharp-edged --reference to Sarah Palin's paid-for campaign wardrobe.
Ron Kaufman, an RNC member who spoke about budget issues, pointed the finger at the McCain campaign. The McCain campaign put the onus on the national committee during the campaign.
Kaufman said there was a certain amount of coordination between the campaign and the RNC on the issue, but ultimately, it was the campaign's decision.