Despite a rousing speech by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who indicated that he would soon open an office in the state in pursuit of his presidential ambitions, California’s Republican Party convention in Los Angeles, “Reclaim California,” sounded a note of division, with three prominent Republicans declining to support the party’s candidate for governor, amidst growing concern about the party’s future as a statewide political institution.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), who lost to former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari in the primary election after being outspent in the closing weeks, declined to endorse Kashkari when asked by the Sacramento Bee, saying that he was endorsing “liberty.” The party’s two most hopeful statewide candidates, Ashley Swearengin (for Controller) and Pete Peterson (for Secretary of State) also declined to back Kashkari.
The lack of support for Kashkari is striking, especially after Kashkari’s strong performance earlier in September in his debate with incumbent Democrat Jerry Brown. It is unclear how supporting Kashkari would hurt either candidate. Voters do not have a particularly negative view of him, even if he is far behind Brown in the polls. Yet moderates and conservatives seem reluctant to back a losing candidate who stands for the party as a whole.
Kashkari has long been an unlikely standard-bearer. Yet it is the standard that is the problem. Voters in the Golden State have a sharply negative view of Republicans–a view that seems to have worsened over time, as the party’s core constituencies–including small business owners and homeowners–leave the state, or find themselves outvoted by the Democratic Party’s growing Latino base and stable left-wing urban core of support.
Such is the lack of confidence among Republican leaders that Chairman Jim Brulte has privately called for fewer statewide gatherings, according to the Sacramento Bee. Brulte has been almost exclusively focused on raising funds focused on winning State Senate and State Assembly races to deny Democrats a supermajority–raising funds for the top of the ticket has reportedly not been his priority.
Though Rand Paul’s emphasis on social liberalism, outreach to minority voters, and skepticism of foreign wars seem designed to appeal to California voters, it is far from clear that even that formula can win support back to the GOP. Despite some promising candidates, and scandalous corruption among California’s Democratic leaders, the Republican Party is still fighting for its survival in the state President Ronald Reagan called home.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the forthcoming ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak
This post has been updated.