For the first time in memory, California Republicans have a diverse statewide slate of candidates to field this fall, a lineup their state party chairman calls "an inspirational ticket." Coupled with national momentum for conservatives, the California GOP is hoping this might be their breakthrough year.
Yet it's far from clear whether voters in California, where Democrats have a nearly 15-point voter registration advantage, will see the same glitter the GOP faithful perceive.
"We repeatedly hear and see objective data that Democratic voters are not enthusiastic about turning out (this year)," said GOP chairman Ron Nehring. "The Democrats are going to have to spend a lot of money turning voters out that we don't have to spend because we know from research that our voters are fired up."
The party also faces no pressure to spend in the governor's race, where billionaire Whitman has already contributed $104 million of her own money to what is expected to become the most expensive statewide campaign in history.
Since the June primary, she has also assiduously courted Hispanic voters, opening an office in Hispanic East Los Angeles and airing radio and TV spots in Spanish.
But Democrats who traditionally dominate this demographic are unlikely to cede those voters or other moderates. Their party, with its strong union support, is generally known for skillful voter-turnout efforts, and this year will be no different, said Democratic Party spokesman Tenoch Flores.
"Our greatest advantage is our network of grassroots activists across the state who are ready and eager to get to work and turn Democrats out to vote," he said.
Energized by the most diverse state ticket in their party's history, California Republicans are stepping up their outreach to Latinos and other minorities, hoping to repair their image and grow their ranks. But as they gathered for their semiannual convention over the weekend, GOP leaders and the party faithful clashed over immigration, illustrating, in an unexpected way, the party's key campaign theme: Party of the future versus party of the past.The Sacramento Bee reports:
Conservative activists had hoped to win support for a resolution endorsing both Arizona's controversial immigration law and Proposition 187, the 1994 effort to deny taxpayer-funded services to illegal immigrants. Looking to turn the page, party leaders, reportedly at the behest of Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman, killed the measure in committee.
They feared a divisive debate would blunt the GOP's political momentum as Whitman and U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina run competitive races against their Democratic opponents. Both candidates focused on the economy and praised the diversity of the ticket in their convention speeches. Neither mentioned immigration.
"She has been very dedicated to raising money into the party to support that victory operation," said Whitman strategist Rob Stutzman, a former Schwarzenegger aide and campaign strategist. "Probably, it hasn't been since (Pete) Wilson in '94 that there was such a well-organized, coordinated and well-funded victory operation in place."
Whitman also has helped shape the Republican ticket. State Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, said she recruited him to run again for state controller this year after the two supported former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign.
"I think she's provided leadership at the top of the ticket," Strickland said. "She's good about bringing us with her, campaigning together as a team."
Similarly, the Whitman team has taken under its wing secretary of state candidate Damon Dunn, who like Whitman is a political novice with a scant history of voting in elections. Throughout the convention, top Whitman aide Hector Barajas could be seen escorting Dunn to meetings with GOP leaders.