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GOP Outreach Starts Close to Home

In an effort to reach out to citizens “across the country,— a group of senior Republicans has scheduled their first town-hall style event at a not-yet announced restaurant in Arlington, Va., a 10-minute cab ride from the Capitol.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters and bloggers on a conference call Thursday that they intend to take their meetings of their new organization — the National Council for a New America — farther beyond the Beltway in the coming months.

Cantor said the “private proprietorship— where the first meeting will take place on Saturday may be just outside the Beltway, but the restaurant’s financial struggles are analogous to those faced by small business owners around the country.

A GOP source familiar with plans for the event said the name of the restaurant will be announced later Thursday and added it will be open to press. Attendees will include of regular patrons of the restaurant and others invited by the owner, the source said.

Former Republican Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jeb Bush of Florida will join Cantor at the Arlington event.

Both Cantor and McCain stressed that the town halls are not meant to reshape the party’s image.

“This is not a contract with America, this is a conversation with America,— McCain said. “This is not a rebranding effort.—

Scheduled attendees include Republican leaders from Congress as well as current and former GOP governors, but McCain expressed hope that politicians of all stripes would eventually join their traveling conversations.

McCain said the effort is based on the National Policy Forum, which was established by panel participant and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour when he was head of the Republican National Committee. The new program, spearheaded by Cantor, has no affiliation with the political arm of the party.

Word of the town halls will be spread through media and through technology such as Twitter. A Web site dedicated to informing the public of the group’s work and schedule will also be launched, Cantor said.

Asked about the panel at his weekly press briefing, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that solutions to the nation’s problems were likely to come from outside of Washington.

“I think it’s important for us to have a dialog with the American people,— he said.

Boehner acknowledged the party’s weakened position but he said it would work its way back by offering better solutions than Democrats.

In addition to McCain, Cantor, Boehner, Romney, Barbour and Bush, other participants in the group are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), House Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), Senate Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), Sen. John Thune (S.D.), House Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), House Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) and House Conference Secretary John Carter (Texas).

McCain mentioned twice during the conference call that the group had also extended an invitation to his former running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and said he hoped she would join the conversation.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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