Republicans acknowledge they face an uphill fight to bring the party back to relevance in California. But fight they will. That was the main message this weekend when California’s Republican Party members gathered in Sacramento for their annual spring convention.
Republicans are plotting a comeback following their drubbing in November, and their strategy centers on attracting more Latino candidates and voters.
California Republicans insist they’ve got a message that appeals to voters. As former outgoing party chairman Tom Del Beccaro told reporters, “The reality is the record of the Democrat Party in this state is the highest unemployment combined with the highest taxes of any state in the country. That is their record.”
It seems like a winning pitch, but California’s Republicans have lost and lost in recent elections. They hold just 11 seats in the 40-member Senate, are outnumbered by a 2-1 margin in the Assembly, and don’t hold a single statewide office.
Only 29 percent of California voters are currently registered Republican.
The convention’s key speaker, strategist Karl Rove, told the state’s Republicans he doesn’t want to hear any excuses. “My message is this,” Rove said. “Get off your ass.”
Rove’s advice to California’s GOP is to broaden the base, engage in California’s growing ethnic communities. “We need to be asking for the vote in the most powerful way possible,” he said, “which is to have people asking for the vote who are comfortable and look like and sound like the people they’re asking the vote from.”
Rove wasn’t alone. Over the weekend, leader after leader talked about how Republicans need to do everything they can to appeal to Latino voters. “We need to provide Latino voters with Republican candidates who are from their neighborhoods, said Ruben Barrales, who recently took over a project called GROW elect, which aims to identify and support conservative Latino candidates.
“We need to build a farm team -- a bench -- of Republican elected officials who can in an increasingly diverse California.”
The idea isn’t groundbreaking. “Quite honestly, this really was not new,” said Bay-area delegate Jeff Wald. “We’ve all heard this sort of thing.”
It may not be a new message -- but this time the idea seemed to strike a chord. When Barrales held a meeting discussing the GROW elect agenda, the crowd spilled out the door.
“It’s about time,” said former Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, surveying the crowd. Maldonado has spent years talking about broadening the Republican base. “The party has no choice. You either communicate and work and communicate to Latinos, or you’re committing political suicide for your party.”
California Republicans can’t get back in the game overnight. Jim Brulte, who was elected party chairman this weekend, has admitted it will take years to build the GOP up to a point where it can compete and win statewide elections again.
But the crowd of conservatives drew some hope from Karl Rove, who talked about how Democrats dominated Texas when he started working in politics. “Out of the 31 members of the Texas state Senate, we had doubled our support in the state Senate in one election cycle alone,” he said. “We’d gone from one to two.” These days, of course, Republicans dominate Texas even more than Democrats control California.
Brulte warned Republicans they’ll never see that growth, however, unless they start reaching out to a broader range of voters. “We are 29 percent of the vote in this state,” he said. “One hundred percent of 29 [percent] does not get us to 51 [percent],"