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In Retreat, GOP to Plan Attack

House Republicans, gearing up for their three-day issues retreat next week, plan to put aside lingering questions about who will lead them in 2012 and instead focus on converting their political momentum into election victories later this year.

The retreat will feature Republican leaders and strategists suggesting new ways for the party to harness power, instead of featuring presidential hopefuls to help them plan the way forward.

After sustaining a second round of painful losses in 2008, a smaller and demoralized House Republican Conference in 2009 retreated to the Homestead Resort in Sulphur Springs, Va., determined to put the past two cycles behind it and to move forward by turning to candidates who might win back the White House in 2012.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney all addressed the 2009 gathering in Sulphur Springs, encouraging Members to stick to their conservative principles.

But this year, none of the three potential 2012 GOP contenders will appear at the party’s Baltimore retreat, suggesting a shift away from presidential politics and a sharper focus on the 2010 elections.

Newly minted Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (Texas) will be featured as keynote speakers at the Jan. 28-30 retreat.

“The governor will be speaking about what he calls ‘Results Oriented Conservatism’ — how conservatives can win tough elections in swing states by advancing positive solutions to the challenges voters face that are rooted in our conservative principles,— said McDonnell spokeswoman Stacey Johnson. “He looks forward to sharing the lessons that can be learned from his campaign and talking about the importance for Republicans to be both principled and practical.—

McDonnell’s victory over Democrat Creigh Deeds last year has served as a key talking point for Republicans, who believe that the political tide is starting to turn in their favor.

Now the chairman of FreedomWorks, Armey has become an important leader in the grass-roots “tea party— movement. Republicans have courted the anti-tax tea partiers, hoping to harness their energy in the 2010 elections.

Conservative icon and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) will return to address the conference this year. While Gingrich is often mentioned as a possible contender for a GOP presidential nomination and addressed the Conference last year, he has also been a longtime adviser to the GOP.

President Barack Obama is also slated to speak to the Republican retreat and will likely face a tougher crowd than ever before.

“Over the last year of Democrat control in Washington the American people have endured a massive increase in government and out-of-control spending,— said Mary Vought, a spokeswoman for the Republican Conference. “Our retreat is focused on fixing the Democrats’ failed policies and coming together with the American people to support responsible common-sense solutions that get our country back to work.—

One senior Republican said this year’s retreat would focus on crafting a solid platform of proposed solutions to the nation’s problems — an idea stressed by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) at the leadership retreat last week.

“This retreat will be a real political meeting instead of a seminar with entertainment,— Republican Policy Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) said. “Boehner wants to see where Members are at on the issues and what is possible [in 2010].—

Ron Bonjean, CEO of the Bonjean Co. and a former House and Senate leadership staffer, said Republicans are smart to keep their eyes trained on 2010.

“It is a wise move for Republicans to keep the message focused on 2010 strategy on winning instead of the 2012 presidential cycle,— he said in an e-mail. “If they allowed GOP primary candidates to speak, it creates questions about who speaks for the party and could steer the message in a different direction.”

A GOP aide familiar with the Republican Study Committee retreat, which took place last week in Charlottesville, Va., said the conservative group’s annual meeting had a similar tone.

Gingrich and Armey also attended the RSC retreat, the aide said, adding that Gingrich told Members to “work harder, and to communicate in a positive tone in 2010 and promote a set of conservative solutions that can define Republicans.—

“Much of the retreat focused on recapturing our principles and talking about that set of solutions, ensuring we had an agenda to govern with if given the privilege of leading again,— the aide said.

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