Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday the GOP lost the White House because the party was tainted by corruption, overspending and “sometimes came across as a bunch of grumpy old men.”
Graham, a close ally of John McCain who campaigned frequently for the GOP nominee, said the election left the party damaged.
“It's certainly not beyond repair,” he said. “I think this is a center-right nation. America did not wake up one day and become liberal, but we as a party had worn out our welcome.”
Graham did not single out specific cases of corruption, but in the past year Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was arrested in an airport men's room sex sting and Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was convicted last month in a federal corruption case. Graham also did not specify instances of overspending, but spokesman Kevin Bishop later said Graham opposes some earmarks.
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The senator from South Carolina said Republicans need to match the youthful appeal of Barack Obama's positive energy. Obama is 47; McCain is 72.
“All we have to do is go back to the basics of fiscal conservatism, with a smile and come up with new ways to communicate with the younger voter,” said Graham, who captured 58 percent of the vote in winning re-election against a little-known opponent.
Exit polls show that 18- to 29-year-olds voted for Obama by a more than 2-1 margin, boosted by particularly strong support from young African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans.
“I don't believe they are all liberal,” Graham said. “I think they were attracted to his positive message, and we sometimes came across as a bunch of grumpy old men. We have got to knock that off.”
The Republicans have a positive message, but must find a way to get it across, he said.
“We live in a global economy. When young people seek jobs they're competing with China and India,” he said. “If we don't have good tax policy, businesses will leave. Social Security is going bankrupt – we've got to plan for that. We have to show young people that their future is better preserved by our policies.”
Graham added: “We can't ignore the fact that Sen. Obama ran a great campaign, but we did shoot ourselves in the foot.”