By Scott Malone
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 11 (Reuters) - Both U.S. political parties need to do a better job connecting with moderate Americans rather than staking out extreme positions, the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives said on Monday.
Representative Eric Cantor's comments came as Republicans and Democrats are trying to strike a more conciliatory tone after more than two years at loggerheads over how to begin to pay down the $16.7 trillion federal debt.
"There is a need for us, either side, to go and convince the middle that you're right because most people are not so partisan or ideological," Cantor, the House majority leader known for his combative style, said at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, outside Boston.
"I don't necessarily believe that demagoguery or fire with fire is the way to convince the independents, if you will, that there's a better way."
Both the Republicans and President Barack Obama's Democratic Party in recent weeks have signaled a new willingness to at least listen to each other, with Obama last week holding a series of meetings and a dinner with Republican lawmakers in a bid to thaw icy relations.
"The president has embarked on what the media claims is a charm offensive. I think it is overdue that he does that," said Cantor, of Virginia, who has taken more conservative than moderate positions in past political fights.
"It's about getting to know one another, it's about developing a knowledge of how far you can go, what the sensitivities are, politically and personally ... every time we revert to campaign mode it's very difficult to get anything done on policy," Cantor said.
The 2012 elections were a blow to the Republican Party, which failed to unseat Obama and lost seats in both the House of Representatives and Senate.
Cantor last month gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, in which he tried to soften his party's tone of opposition to Obama, while balancing the need to stay true to its ideals.
The Republicans need to balance their conservative economic policies with a changing society, Cantor said.
"Our party needs to do a better job at getting to know different constituencies," Cantor said, adding that Republicans could "do some real soul searching in terms of how we can connect with an increasingly diverse country." (Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Todd Eastham)