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GOP aims for new audience

The Republican Party on Monday launched a new grass-roots policy forum, open to supporters of Ross Perot and to disillusioned Democrats and aiming to dispel the notion that 12 years in power had exhausted the supply of fresh GOP ideas.

In announcing the formation of the National Policy Forum, Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour acknowledged that "we did not do a very good job in 1992 of letting people know what we are asking them to vote for."

"We have to do more today than just oppose Bill Clinton."

Barbour said the Policy Forum was being created as a separate, tax-exempt organization, in part to allow it to collect large, anonymous donations for its $4-million budget and in part to "make it easier for people who are not Republican activists to participate."

Named as president of the forum was Michael E. Baroody, who played a similar role under RNC Chairman Bill Brock between 1977 and 1980 and more recently has been the spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers.

Barbour and Baroody said the forum will operate through 12 to 20 policy councils made up of elected and party officials and private sector leaders. Each policy council will hold public forums around the country to solicit ideas from what Barbour promised would be "a wide spectrum" of people "sharing basic Republican principles."

The party chairman said he was not looking for "consensus on every issue" or seeking planks for the 1996 platform but rather wanted to launch a participatory process that would "demonstrate ours is a party of principle and a party of ideas."

Although his statement made no reference to abortion, Barbour said that topic and other potentially controversial social issues would be on the agenda for one of the task forces.