Beginning today, upwards of a thousand Republican leaders and activists from California’s 58 counties will converge on the Marriott Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport for the biannual convention of the California Republican Party.
Party regulars gather at a particularly challenging time for Republicans in the Golden State.
Republican voter registration in California, as a percentage, is lower than it has been in generations, and Democrats have “run the table” in terms of electoral prizes–with both U.S. Senators, every statewide constitutional office from Governor on down to Superintendent of Public Instruction, and supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature.
Barack Obama swept the state by a staggering 21 points in his 2012 re-election bid.
Particularly painful for the GOP was the loss in the election of three incumbent members of Congress. California has become over the last two decades a reliably blue state.
That having been said, perhaps Republicans gathered here can take consolation in the proverbial saying, “When you are at the bottom, there is only one way to go–up!”
Former State Senate and State Assembly GOP leader Jim Brulte was unanimously elected Chairman of the California GOP early last year. While Brulte is credited as being a savvy pol who nearly two decades ago was the chief strategist who positioned Assembly Republicans to ride the 1994 “Contract with America” wave into a short-lived GOP majority in the Capitol’s lower chamber, the state has changed a lot since then, and the challenges for California Republicans are great.
That said, Brulte has really championed one major objective: busting his party out of “super-minority” status in the California legislature.
That is where he has focused his fundraising efforts, and success or failure at achieving that objective that will define his first term as Chairman.
Of course for the national party there is much attention on the strong potential to reclaim those three competitive House seats in Sacramento, San Diego and the Inland Empire that were lost in the last election.
So what will those Republicans gathered here in Los Angeles this weekend be doing?
Tonight, the focus of the convention program with be a “Tribute to the Women of the GOP,” where the the party’s nominee for Controller, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, will deliver a keynote address at a banquet emceed by Board of Equalization Member Michelle Steel, the state’s highest ranking GOP officeholder.
Tomorrow, United States Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) will deliver a luncheon address to a sold-out crowd. Paul, who is actively flirting with a run for the Presidency in 2016, is extremely popular with the party’s conservative base, including both Tea Party activists as well as more traditional Republican types.
On Saturday night the GOP had originally secured then-Repubican majority leader Eric Cantor to speak to convention attendees. Of course, Cantor rather infamously failed to be renominated by the GOP in his House seat, and subsequently resigned from Congress to take a seven-figure salary with a Wall Street firm.
Of course Cantor’s replacement as Majority Leader was a Californian, Congressman Kevin McCarthy. There is no doubt that McCarthy is the most influential Republican in California, and he will now be the star attraction at Saturday night’s dinner.
Featured throughout the convention will the GOP’s statewide ticket–with gubernatorial nominee Neel Kashkari addressing the main convention session on Sunday morning. Kashkari, while down considerably in the polls to his popular opponent Governor Jerry Brown, Kashkari comes into this convention where he will be met with an enthusiastic audience anxious to see Brown defeated, however quixotic of a desire that might seem right now.
Convention delegates will have the opportunity to participate in many workshops and networking meetings. And this convention is when the party will consider taking official positions for or against the various measures that will appear on the November ballot.
While the GOP already took a position against Prop. 46 at their Spring Convention (this is the measure that would raise the damages caps for medical malpractice cases, being sponsored by the state’s trial attorneys association), the party has yet to speak out on Propositions 1 (the Water Bond), 2 (Rainy Day Fund), 45 (which would expand the scope of oversight of the state Insurance Commissioner to include healthcare insurance), 47 (which would reduce the penalties for certain types of crimes) and Prop 48 (the ratification of a gaming compact between the state and the North Forks Indian tribe).
2014 is a pivotal year for the California Republican Party. If it is to be considered a viable statewide political party in California going forward, then it simply has to improve its lot in this non-presidential election year.
This year is shaping up nationally to be a good one for the GOP–the question will be whether or not California’s Democrats can stop a Republican wave on the other side of the Sierra’s.