Fractured California GOP Aims To Rebuild Party

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SACRAMENTO (KCBS/AP) — After suffering widespread losses at the polls in 2010, the California Republican Party is trying to regroup and stay relevant in a state that appears to be leaning less and less toward Republican ideology.

KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier Comments:

The party has had trouble attracting support from non-white residents, a troubling sign in a state that U.S. Census data show is becoming increasingly diverse. But Republicans also have been caught up for several years in a family feud over ideology — one that tends to flare up around its twice-yearly state conventions.

“Well, we don’t really have a lot of stars coming out,” summed up KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier. “I mean, we have, what, Haley Barbour coming in from Mississippi as the sort of the pre-presidential roll-through?”

“There may be others,” interjected former San Francisco mayor and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. “You still have the possibility that (Newt) Gingrich may show.”

“Well, okay, then maybe it would be an interesting thing to see,” conceded Matier.

The party’s three-day spring convention opens Friday night with an address by former United Nations ambassador John Bolton. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a potential GOP presidential candidate, is the keynote speaker Saturday.

One thing Matier and Brown did agree on during an in-studio appearance on KCBS Friday morning: much of the offstage conversation will focus on the budget fight across the street at the state Capitol. Republican lawmakers, many of whom have signed on to various no-tax promises, have refused to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to address California’s $26.6 billion budget shortfall.

The Democratic governor has proposed $12.5 billion in spending cuts and wants a special election so voters can decide whether to extend recent increases in the sales, personal income and vehicle taxes for five years.

They are under pressure from a conservative wing of the party, the California Republican Assembly, which has introduced a resolution that would brand any lawmakers who vote for Brown’s ballot proposal “traitorous Republicans-in-name-only” and calling for their resignation from office. Supporters want the party to help fund recall campaigns against such politicians and prohibit them from getting financial help from the party in the future.

That brought a rebuke from the governor earlier this week as he was attempting to negotiate with Republican lawmakers.

“If it comes to a situation in America where letting the people vote becomes an act of terrorism, we’re in a very serious situation when a major party thinks that way,” Governor Jerry Brown told reporters.

During a debate Thursday about the future of the GOP in California, conservative radio show host Eric Hogue argued that the party has failed in its messaging — presenting itself as the “party of no,” instead of offering constructive ideas that voters can get behind.

If they don’t change that message, he said, they risk extinction, and will further alienate themselves with Latino voters.

“The Republican Party needs to sit down with Latinos and Latinas and talk. I don’t know why we’re so afraid of talking to people. I don’t get that,” he told the Sacramento Press Club. “This is the answer for the Republican Party. Let people buy in.”

The “traitorous”-style rhetoric has harmed the party at the polls in the past.

The only Republicans to successfully win statewide in California in the past decade are former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who never had to run the party’s primary gauntlet, and former state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who was independently wealthy and ran as a moderate in 2006. Democrats won every statewide office in 2010.

Republicans and Democrats also face several voter-approved wildcards in the next election cycle — the open primary system and an independent redistricting commission that will redraw legislative and congressional districts based on new U.S. Census data. The current districts were drawn by the Legislature a decade ago to protect the political status quo at the time.

The new primary system, in which the top-two voter getters advance to the general election regardless of party, could be a great opportunity, particularly for moderate candidates who are pushed to take conservative positions during primary battles, said Marty Wilson, a Republican consultant.

“It opens the door to candidates to campaign on issues and not worry so much about the party label, which frankly can be a bit of a drag,” said Wilson, who ran former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina’s unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate last year.

The census data show that California’s inland counties, upon which the GOP has often relied for support, are becoming more diverse. Riverside County is now 46 percent Latino while San Bernardino County is 49 percent Latino, up from 36 percent and 39 percent a decade ago, respectively. Latinos have tended to vote with Democrats.

Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring, who will be replaced this weekend because his term is up, spoke often about the party’s extensive outreach efforts with minority communities, yet party registration has continued to fall. It now stands at nearly 31 percent, compared with 44 percent for Democrats and 20 percent of the electorate who call themselves independents.

A vice-chairman of the party, Tom Del Beccaro, is expected to win nomination as the party’s next chairman this weekend, and has already launched an outreach campaign, including an ad on YouTube in which his supporters compare the California Republican Party to a losing sports team that could rebound with new management.

Del Beccaro did not return calls from The Associated Press left with the state party and his political spokeswoman.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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