GOP Future may lie in California
Not with Ahnold. If Dems nominate Moonbeam or Newsom GOP will have the smarter and fresher candidate.
Vote could signal start of new-look GOP
Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer
Monday, August 10, 2009
(08-09) 19:45 PDT -- Despite California's sorry status as an economic basket case, some GOP voices are suggesting, ever so hopefully, that the Golden State could be poised for a new profile - as the birthplace of a potential renaissance for the Republican Party.
And it could start at the top, some argue, with the 2010 campaign for governor.
National conservative columnist George Will penned a gushing piece to that effect after he got a rare, close-up look at billionaire former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and her well-funded campaign to become the next Republican governor. "Although California is a blue state, it has had Republican governors for 30 of the last 43 years," he wrote. "The Republican revival nationally might begin here next year."
Fox News pundit Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the Weekly Standard, has also gone gaga over Whitman, turning California into a potential stepping stone for the GOP's comeback.
"Everything is going to change after the 2010 election, when all these new faces will come into the Republican Party," he recently predicted.
And Whitman, he wrote, could be the key as "governor of the biggest state, a brainy, conservative, accomplished woman at the top of the Republican ladder. When Reagan was elected governor in 1966, the speculation about national office - president, vice president - erupted instantly."
Such high praise may explain why Whitman, who wasn't even a registered Republican until 2007, already has spent $6 million of her own money on her exploratory GOP campaign to run the world's eighth-largest economy.
Amazingly, she isn't the only member of her party who wants a shot at being GOP savior in the Golden State.
State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, also a millionaire candidate, has aimed to distinguish himself from Whitman by noting his varied background. The former teacher has experience not only in Silicon Valley, making millions as an inventor of GPS in cell phones, but also in statewide government.
"I'm an engineer. I'm a problem solver," Poizner said recently. "I can win politically and build coalitions."
And Tom Campbell, the former Silicon Valley congressman who served as state budget director, is calling for an agenda of fiscal conservatism and moderate social values, and he is competing with Poizner and Whitman on a bare-bones budget. He's produced more detailed proposals than the two combined - a 30-page plan on how to solve the state's financial mess - while steadfastly refusing to attack his fellow Republicans.
Simon Rosenberg, who heads the Washington-based think tank NDN, formerly known as the New Democrat Network, says all three will be among the most-watched candidates in the nation in 2010.
"The California governor's race will be the most important in the country next year," he said. "It's going to be a titanic battle, and whichever party wins it will win the crown jewel."
Excited by prospects
With 11 months before the primary, Republicans say they may be forgiven for getting excited about their prospects in decidedly blue-leaning California, which voted for Barack Obama by 61 to 37 percent over Republican Sen. John McCain in 2008.
State party Vice Chair Jon Fleischman, who publishes the FlashReport, a popular GOP Web site, says that's because in the 2010 gubernatorial race, "the Democrats are either going to put up Gov. Moonbeam" - Jerry Brown, the former two-term governor - "or the whacked-out mayor of San Francisco," Gavin Newsom.
Both Democrats, he predicts, will "fire up the state's GOP grassroots and fundraising" from across the country.
But veteran political observers say grassroots firepower and funding - even with a millionaire candidate - won't transform California into a Republican Party comeback engine in 2010.
"Of all the places one could imagine ... if there is going to be a Republican renaissance, it's not going to be in California," Rosenberg said. "California's demographics have changed a great deal since the days of Ronald Reagan and Pat Brown," he noted, particularly with fast-growing Asian and Latino electorates both trending Democratic.
"That shift has been a brand shift, ... and it will be difficult for any individual to reverse that tide," he said. In the previous gubernatorial election, "it took the Terminator for (the GOP) to win it - and this will be a harder climate."
Many independent voters
Hoover Institution senior fellow Morris Fiorina said a fifth of state voters now declare themselves independents, and they tend to be increasingly moderate on abortion, environment and same-sex marriage - social issues on which the GOP "has tacked so far to the right that it can't win."
Patrick Dorinson, whose CowboyLibertarian.com blog calls for a government to "keep their hands out of folks' wallets and their nose out of their private lives," notes all three GOP gubernatorial candidates are pro-choice moderates.
That isn't stopping Beltway Republicans from "trying to import a Southern brand of conservatism that doesn't work out here," he said.
Rosenberg notes that "the most compelling Republican leader of the last generation came out of California: Ronald Reagan."
But here's the challenge, he says: "The California today is not the California that created Reagan or the conservative movement.
"Among aging pundits, there's a nostalgia for the old days," Rosenberg said. "But we're in the 21st century now."
E-mail Carla Marinucci at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can teach me lots of lessons
You can bring me lots of gold
But you just can't live in Texas
If you don't have lots of soul