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Battered Calif. Republicans trying latest makeover

Posted: March 2, 2013 9:15 a.m.
Updated: March 2, 2013 9:15 a.m.

U.S. Rep., Kevin McCarthy, of Bakersfield, the House Majority Whip, will be attending the state GOP convention held in Sacramento this weekend, urged Republicans to fundamentally restructure the party's operations, and to deliver a message of optimism.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Republicans are banking on a former state lawmaker to turn their party's fortunes around after a growing disconnect between the party and the California mainstream has left the party battered and broke.

The state GOP meets for its spring convention this weekend in the state capital, still smarting from its losses in November's general election. Democrats grabbed supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate, California's congressional delegation became more Democratic, and voters passed Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative by a comfortable margin.

The party faithful hope former Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte will restore their party's luster and its bank account.

Yet to be successful in the long run, Republicans will need to reach a large segment of voters who have largely turned away from the GOP. That includes young voters and Latinos, who are the fastest-growing segment of the electorate and are expected to surpass whites in California next year.

There are no plans to revamp the party platform, which espouses opposition to gay marriage, abortion and universal health care. And the roster of speakers for the weekend reads like a list of establishment Republicans, including GOP strategist Karl Rove, who is Saturday's headline speaker.

On Friday, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield called the November election a "wake-up call to the California GOP" and urged fellow Republicans to restructure the party's operations to better compete with Democrats' more sophisticated approach.

He urged Republicans to deliver a message of optimism and "embrace a little bit of our libertarianism."

Limore Shalom, 41, a first-time delegate from Los Angeles, said California Republicans should avoid addressing divisive social issues to attract a broader base of voters she said would support the party's other principles. "Everything" has to change in the way the party communicates, she said.

"Foreign policy, economic policy, I feel is much stronger for the party," Shalom said. "We need to bring in people who can reinvigorate the party and lead it towards being great again."

Fewer than 30 percent of California voters are registered Republican, continuing a 20-year decline. The party has lost support with Latino voters since 1994, when Gov. Pete Wilson championed Proposition 187.

That ballot initiative prohibited illegal immigrants from using public health care programs, education and a variety of social services. The law was later overturned by the courts but has left lingering resentment among Latinos.

The weekend gathering offers an opportunity for internal party tensions to play out, although even the most conservative Republicans say they support Brulte's election.

Celeste Greig, president of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative faction within the party, said she backs Brulte and knows he won't tinker with the party platform.

"He knows that it will not work. He knows that the passion and commitment in the grassroots is within the conservative movement," Grieg said of Brulte. "I don't foresee him caving in to pressure from the minority moderate wing of the party."

Brulte, of Rancho Cucamonga, said his priorities are getting the party out of debt and fixing its organizational problems before taking on its messaging. He said the party needs to recruit, train and provide whatever technical help it can afford to boost Republican candidates running at all levels of office.

"I want to be the most boring Republican Party chairman in the history of California. I want to focus on nuts and bolts. It's not glamorous, it's not exciting, it's just necessary," he said in an interview with The Associated Press last month.


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