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First Thoughts: Changing the rules, not the party

Republicans in MI, OH, PA, VA are looking to change the Electoral College rules, not their party… The changes would give the GOP a HUGE advantage in presidential contests… But it would also present this dilemma for Republicans: It would speed up efforts to have the popular vote decide presidential elections… The Republican 2016ers: the insiders vs. the outsiders… Obama and Hillary to hold joint “60 Minutes” interview… Biden to talk gun violence in Richmond, VA at 11:00 am ET… And abortion opponents hold “March for Life” in DC.

*** Changing the rules, not the party: As the Republican National Committee concludes its three-day meeting in Charlotte, N.C., you’ve by now heard all the different ways Republicans are looking to improve their standing in time for the next presidential election. They want to do a better job reaching out to Latinos (see Jeb Bush’s WSJ op-ed), they want to soften their tone when it comes to social issues, and they want to narrow their technological and get-out-the-vote operation gap with Democrats. But here’s another way you might not have heard: Some Republicans are looking to change the Electoral College system in battleground states that Democrats have won in the last two cycles. As the Washington Post reports, Republicans in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia -- all controlled at the state level (in some form or fashion) by the GOP -- have proposed awarding their Electoral College votes by congressional district instead of the winner-take-all approach used by every state except for two (Maine and Nebraska). “No state is moving quicker than Virginia, where state senators are likely to vote on the plan as soon as next week,” the Post says.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks as (L-R) Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), John Barrasso (R-WY), and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) listen during a news briefing after the weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon January 22, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

*** That would give the GOP a HUGE advantage: The Republicans advocating these changes say they would give smaller communities more of a voice in presidential battleground states. But there’s a bigger story here: The moves would give the GOP a significant advantage due to the fact that redistricting has concentrated the Democratic vote to just a handful of congressional districts in these states. Take Virginia, for example: Obama won the state in 2012 by four percentage points and by about 150,000 votes -- and he took all of the state’s 13 electoral votes. But under the proposed changes, Mitt Romney would have won nine of the state’s electoral votes to Obama’s four. Put another way, if every electoral vote in the country was awarded by congressional district (plus two votes to the statewide winner), Romney would have defeated Obama, 276 to 262 in electoral votes (instead of Obama winning 332 to 206), according to Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz. And if only the states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin were changed to this system, Obama would have BARELY won, 271-267, Abramowitz adds.

*** The GOP’s dilemma: The current system vs. the popular vote: And this isn’t just coming from state-level Republicans. In an interview earlier this month with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus -- who’s expected to win re-election as RNC chair today in Charlotte -- appeared to bless these changes to the Electoral College system. "I think it's something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at," Priebus said, but he also added: "It's not my decision that can come from the RNC, that's for sure." But these proposed changes are shortsighted for two reasons. One, the Republicans pushing them are all but acknowledging that their party problems heading into 2016 are so significant that they have to change the rules in order to win. In other words, they are throwing in the towel and trying to rig the system. Two, the proposed changes would only speed up efforts to have the popular vote -- and not the Electoral College -- decide presidential contests, because many would see that as a fairer system. So Republicans need to ask themselves this question: Do they want the current Electoral College system, or do they want the popular vote? And a final question here: Where are the big leaders of the party on this issue? Haley Barbour? Jeb Bush? George W. Bush?

*** The insiders vs. the outsiders: Speaking of the RNC confab in Charlotte, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered a speech last night arguing, “We must stop being the stupid party. It's time for a new Republican party that talks like adults.” His main contention, per NBC’s Carrie Dann: Republicans need to get away from the budget battles of Washington, D.C. "We as Republicans have to accept that government number crunching -- even conservative number crunching -- is not the answer to our nation's problems." This highlights a striking split among the possible 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls. Some of them, because they’re governors, are pursuing an outside game. (See Jindal and also see Chris Christie’s criticism of congressional Republicans on the Hurricane Sandy relief.) And others, because they currently serve in Congress, are playing the inside game. (See Marco Rubio, who is pushing immigration reform, and Paul Ryan, who is now arguing that Republicans need to wisely pick their budget battles.) So your Invisible Primary bracket has already begun -- the insider’s bracket vs. the outsider’s bracket.

*** Obama, Hillary to conduct joint interview: And speaking of 2016, President Obama and Hillary Clinton are today taping a joint interview for “60 Minutes,” which will air on Sunday, NBC’s Kristen Welker confirms. This interview is only going to fuel speculation about Clinton’s possible presidential bid in ’16, and it looks like Obama is giving her a VERY BIG embrace. Moreover, you have to wonder what Vice President Biden is thinking about this interview.

*** Biden to talk about gun violence in Virginia: Biden, meanwhile, is heading to Richmond, Va., where he’s holding a roundtable discussion on gun violence Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Sen. Tim Kaine, and U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott. The roundtable discussion takes place at 11:00 am ET.

*** Abortion opponents hold “March for Life” in DC: Finally today, coinciding with this week’s 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the “March for Life” in Washington takes place from noon ET to 1:30 pm ET. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), ex-Sen./ex-presidential candidate Rick Santorum, and others will speak.

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