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High Hopes for House GOP’s Retreat

Over the past few weeks, House Republicans have learned to love President Barack Obama’s bipartisan outreach, learned to love themselves and learned what it means to be in the political outskirts of polite society.

As Martha Stewart would say, it’s a good thing.

“I would say that two retreats ago there was still quite a bit of denial and that’s gone,” said Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.), who as the former chairman of the House Republican Conference was in charge of the 2007 Republican retreat.

“We’ve moved into [a period of] resolve,” Putnam added, but “the question is ‘Resolve to do what?’”

This year, current Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) revamped the structure of the retreat — which begins today and ends on Saturday — bringing in leaders such as former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.

There they will help the House GOP figure out ways not just to regain the majority, but also to create an environment where they can brainstorm ways to get them there.

Pence told reporters on Wednesday his mission is to have House Republicans “more informed, more inspired and more united,” and that a broad range of issues will be discussed, from the economy to entitlements to social issues and foreign policy, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

Putnam said the decision to invite Republicans who hope to dominate the party in 2012 will take the focus away from the House Republican Conference and force members to look at the future of the entire party.

“It’s about focusing on the direction of the party as a whole by bringing the crop that are interested in being leaders in 2012,” he said. “I think it really reinforces that the focus is beyond just floor tactics and into something much larger than just the House of Representatives, and that’s a very good thing.”

Policy Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) said Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) has worked hard to bring GOP Members to realize that being in the minority might not just be a short-term assignment.

“Some Members probably had thought it was a temporary bump in the road,” he said. “This has been proven untrue.”

Rep. Mike Castle (Del.), a nine-term moderate, said that most Conference members are beginning to realize that everyone in the party must be included, and in order for the Republican Party to grow they will have to be more inclusive.

“I think when you talk to Republican Study Committee members, [they think] there is not room in the party for moderates,” he said.

Perhaps as a result of this work and the messaging of his carefully amassed leadership team, Boehner goes into this retreat stronger than he ever has been as Minority Leader.

Rep. Mike Rogers (Mich.) attributed the progress within the party to a combination of Member involvement and the fact that the leadership team has given more Members ownership of the GOP message and how it was crafted.

Although he won’t be able to attend, Rogers predicted the retreat would likely be one of the more productive ones held by the conference.

“We feel like we’ve kind of come together in a better way as a conference. You do a lot of soul-searching when you lose, then you do a lot more soul-searching when you lose again,” Rogers said.

He added that “leadership gets along better than they ever have — the NRCC is, I think, a better place with lots more member involvement — the dust is settling, we feel good about who we are and where we are going.”

Pence, for one, dismissed the notion that the goal of the retreat was to find a way to become relevant again. “We’re feeling pretty relevant,” he said.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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