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March 19, 2013

Have political parties lost their purpose?

WASHINGTON — The Democrats and Republicans may be worlds apart on most things, but at their headquarters just two blocks away from each other on Capitol Hill, each is confronting the same question: Have political parties lost their purpose?

In the wake of two presidential defeats, the Republican National Committee on Monday unveiled what it is calling its Growth and Opportunity Project, which is an effort to take the existing party engine and give it a top-to-bottom tuneup.

"There's no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren't inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; and our primary and debate process needed improvement," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Monday. "So, there's no one solution. There's a long list of them."

The solutions include a $10 million effort to better connect with minority communities, moving up the 2016 convention to as early as June so that the party nominee can tap general-election funding earlier, and limiting the number of primary debates to 10 or 12, rather than the nearly two dozen that took place in 2012.

The report also recommends outsourcing to "friends and allies" at least some of the responsibilities that used to be considered the party's job. They include recruiting minority and women candidates, training grass-roots activists, registering voters and gathering and analyzing data.

Even the winning side of last year's presidential election has been doing some reexamination.

This past week has seen President Obama's old campaign operation relaunching itself as Organizing for Action, building a new political machine outside the Democratic National Committee and causing some quiet consternation among party traditionalists.

After Obama's first election, his campaign operation, then known as Obama for America, decamped to the DNC. But that, as the president acknowledged last week, turned out to be a disappointment, when it proved unable to re-create its magic for the 2010 midterm elections.

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