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u.s. election

After watching Barack Obama win re-election on Tuesday, Republicans will be pointing fingers for a while. But already, partisans and commentators are pointing to a few broad lessons about what they need to do differently going forward.

Re-expand their map

Even when polls showed Mitt Romney matching Mr. Obama in popular support, he was known to face the tougher path to victory. That's because Democrats had locked up enough electoral college votes that they only needed a few battleground wins to put them over the top.

Many of the states that are now considered reliably blue – including Washington, Connecticut and even California – were frequently painted red through the 1970s and '80s. And some, such as New Mexico, were going red as recently as 2004. Getting back in play in some of those places is easier said than done. But the alternative is perpetually facing an uphill battle.

Get less white

Pivotal to competing in more states is making inroads with fast-growing immigrant communities. If that doesn't happen, the Republicans' map will shrink even further. Florida, which Mr. Romney narrowly lost this time, could become a new Democratic stronghold. And states that are still safely Republican, such as Arizona, could slip from their grasp.

At times during this campaign the Republicans tried to tackle this challenge by trotting out party stars such as Florida Governor Marco Rubio and (successful) senate candidate Ted Cruz. They're going to have to start taking more substantive measures, including changing the perception that they favour punitive immigration policy.

Marginalize voices that should be marginal

Most political parties have radical voices on their fringes; few of them have given them as much of a platform as the Republicans in recent years. From a Senate candidate publicly pontificating on "legitimate rape" to birther conspiracy theorist Donald Trump sharing a stage with

Mr. Romney, it caught up with them.

Building a big-tent party is a noble goal, but it doesn't work when the people you invite in are scaring others away. That certainly seemed to be the case this election, with female voters in particular abandoning the Republicans in droves.

With the defeat of Mr. Romney, seen by some of the faithful as too much of a moderate, the hard-liners will try to strengthen their grip on the party.

But if they don't get more disciplined, the Republicans will keep handing gifts to their opponents.

Improve the ground game

With a polarized electorate limiting the number of undecided voters, making sure your would-be supporters cast ballots is increasingly the focus of campaigns.

While impossible to know how much get-out-the-vote machines impacted election results, the Democrats' narrow wins in just about every battleground state – some of which were virtually tied in public opinion polls – validated predictions their operations were superior.

Sasha Issenberg, a Slate journalist, has detailed how Democratic operatives have combined "large-scale survey research" with "randomized experimental methods" to gain an edge in voter targeting. It appears the Republicans have a lot of catching up to do.

Be more positive

The Republican National Convention in August was a joyless affair, and a telling one. Unexcited by their candidate, unable to agree on a brand of conservatism, party members were only able to paper over their differences because of shared antipathy toward the President.

The Republican campaign proved mostly oppositional, with the party seemingly making the mistake of believing dislike of Mr. Obama was deep and widespread enough to get Mr. Romney elected.

Mr. Obama did not remain above the fray; his campaign was vicious in its attacks on Mr. Romney. But like most successful candidates, he was able to offer some sense of optimism. The next Republican nominee will need to do more of that.