WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican Party needs to stop insulting voters and broaden its appeal after Democratic President Barack Obama won re-election this month over Mitt Romney with overwhelming support from Hispanics, blacks and single women, top Republicans said on Sunday.
Comments made by two leading Republican governors and an influential U.S. senator on Sunday reflected the soul-searching taking place in the party after Obama's victory over Republican challenger Romney on November 6.
"If we want people to like us, we have to like them first. And you don't start to like people by insulting them and saying their votes were bought," Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, told the "Fox News Sunday" program.
Jindal and some other Republicans rejected Romney's remarks last week blaming his election loss on what he called an Obama strategy of giving "gifts" to blacks, Hispanics and young voters - groups instrumental to his re-election victory.
These "gifts" cited by Romney included passage of Obama's signature healthcare law, support for contraceptive coverage in medical insurance, and a policy change relaxing U.S. deportation rules so that many young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children can stay in the country and work.
Romney's remarks were made in a telephone call to supporters that news organizations heard.
"We are in a big hole," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "We are not getting out of it by comments like that (by Romney). When you're in a hole, stop digging. He keeps digging."
Graham, who has taken part in a bipartisan effort to fashion immigration reform legislation, said the Republican Party is "in a death spiral with Hispanic voters."
Republicans in recent years have taken a hard line against the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, most of whom are Hispanic. During the campaign, Romney called for "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants.
Obama also was able to score points during the campaign by criticizing congressional Republican refusal to support higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans as part of a deficit-cutting plan. During the campaign, Romney was caught on videotape saying that 47 percent of Americans are "victims" who depend on government and do not pay federal income taxes.
Graham said that most Americans who receive public assistance do not have a character flaw but may have a tough life. He said the focus should be on how to create more jobs, not demonize people who find themselves having hard times.
Jindal said: "We need to make it very clear - we're not the party trying to protect the rich. They can protect themselves. We are the party that wants growth, pro-growth policies."
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, also called for a more inclusive message from Republicans.
"We've got a message that works for young people, that works for people who come to our country from other countries, and basically for anyone who wants to live their piece of the American dream," Walker told "Fox News Sunday."
"We have to show that we are serious about reaching out and helping everyone, not just a group here, not just a group there," Walker added.
Asked about why about two-thirds of unmarried women voters flocked to Obama, Jindal alluded to comments by Republican senate candidates in Indiana and Missouri who called pregnancy from rape something God intended and that women's bodies can ward off pregnancy after "legitimate rape."
Jindal, who opposes abortion, said: "I'm pro-life. I follow the teachings of my church and my faith." But he said Republicans should respect people who disagree on abortion.
"We don't need to demonize - and we also don't need to be saying stupid things," Jindal added.
(Reporting by Will Dunham and Jackie Frank; Editing by Doina Chiacu)