Friday, March 18, 2011

Sacramento Bee: Thoughts on the State GOP Convention This Weekend

California GOP official has a new playbook

Published: Friday, Mar. 18, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.
The video touting the California Republican Party's incoming chairman boasts that he "has a new playbook to help us be proud to be Republicans again."

But what Tom Del Beccaro doesn't have as he maps out the party's comeback is a reserve of candidates with the appeal and credentials to be elected statewide.

"Walk into any bar in California and ... ask them to name three Republican elected officials in California and I bet you will get nothing but a stare," said Allan Hoffenblum, a former GOP strategist who tracks state campaigns as editor of the California Target Book. "There is no (Republican) in California who is a household name other than past candidates and the past governors."

As state GOP officials and delegates flock to Sacramento today for the party's first official gathering since suffering a statewide election sweep Nov. 2, viable candidates positioned to run in the 2012 U.S. Senate contest and 2014 statewide races are hard to spot.

Del Beccaro promises to "actively recruit candidates" and "change the political climate to foster the conditions by which Republicans can succeed."

Those conditions can be hard to achieve in a state where Republicans face declining voter registration – it's now down to 31 percent – and a new primary system that could push candidates to the center. The registration disadvantage is compounded by the high cost of running and the fact that Republicans hold no statewide offices, ruling out one traditional launching pad for other top posts.

"It's going to be a very difficult task for us to elect Republicans statewide in the future," said GOP consultant Rob Stutzman. "Not only do the Republicans have a shallow bench and face long odds, but without the ability to self fund it really becomes the longest of long shots."

One of Stutzman's most recent clients, gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, spent $144 million of her own fortune in a losing cause. Two other wealthy candidates, Steve Poizner in the governor's race and Carly Fiorina in the Senate, also lost.

They are not expected to show up this weekend.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House whip and former Assembly GOP leader, is frequently floated as a viable candidate. But giving up all-but-certain re-election prospects to run an expensive and uphill battle for a term-limited statewide office can be a tough sell for members of California's congressional delegation.

Others considered to have future statewide potential include Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, expected to run for mayor of San Diego in 2012, and 2010 secretary of state nominee Damon Dunn.

Dunn, who as a first-time candidate was named a rising political star by Time magazine, was given a speaking slot at this weekend's convention. Freshman GOP Rep. Jeff Denham, a former state senator and lieutenant governor primary candidate, is the only state elected official on the agenda.

Strategists are quick to point out that strong candidates can emerge from outside the political scene.

But others said stumbles by first-timers like Whitman demonstrate a need for candidates with government and political experience.

"I think one of our priorities needs to be to recruit candidates who have already run for office before and have already been vetted so we don't get these surprises at the last minute," said conservative blogger Jon Fleischman.

Fleischman says the party should stick to its conservative roots, drawing on anti-tax victories at the ballot box and the actions of the House Republicans to drum up support.

"For too many election cycles now our party has been focused on branding ourselves around individual candidates as opposed to creating a bigger, longer lasting brand," he said.

Others say the changing political landscape and election system will require more pragmatic, moderate candidates with crossover appeal.

Kim Nalder, an associate professor of government at California State University, Sacramento, said the party should seek to "get away from the uncooperative, obstructionist stance that we've seen in the legislative
Republicans in the last few years."

Chief among the characteristics a winning candidate will demonstrate, consultants say, is an ability to win support of the growing Latino population, which has for years been alienated by anti-illegal immigration rhetoric and policies.

"Republicans in California will not win statewide in future elections unless we compete more vigorously and more aggressively for Latino votes," said veteran GOP consultant Marty Wilson, who released on Thursday a poll showing the GOP can appeal to Latinos on education and economic issues.

Del Beccaro sees targeting voting blocs not traditionally aligned with the party, including Democrats, independents and young voters, as a first and crucial step to victory, no matter who the candidates will be.

"We can't elect people statewide until we recognize that there are many people we are not consistently communicating with," he said.

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