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California Republicans Are At Historic Low. This Weekend In Sacramento, The Party Seeks A Path Forward

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Zero statewide constitutional offices. No U.S. senators since 1992. Just seven of 53 members of Congress. Barely a quarter of state legislative seats.

And a mere 24 percent of registered California voters — lagging behind even the 27.5 percent of Californians who are registered without party preference.

Ladies and gentlemen, your California Republican Party circa 2019, following its disastrous November election, when it lost all seven competitive House of Representatives races and saw Democrats regain supermajorities in the state Legislature.

President Trump may hold the White House, and Republicans may lead the Senate. But in California, the GOP is in the wilderness. And few expect that to change anytime soon.

Against that backdrop, delegates and party leaders are gathering in Sacramento this weekend for its state convention, to do some soul-searching and chart their path forward.

The debate within the party: Should California Republicans more fully embrace a president who’s deeply disliked in their state but widely popular among party faithful? Should they more vocally reject Trump in hopes of winning over voters who’ve left the GOP in recent years? Or should they continue — as the party has been doing and, many would argue, unsuccessfully — trying to thread the needle between the two extremes?

The biggest decision point this weekend — the battle for the next state party chairperson — epitomizes the larger questions facing the party and pits the grassroots against the establishment.

Jessica Patterson is the establishment’s pick. As CEO of California Trailblazers, an organization founded by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that recruits and trains state legislative candidates, she has ties to the business and donor communities and backing from nearly all GOP lawmakers.

“Our California Republican Comeback will succeed because of great candidates, donors, grassroots activists, local volunteers and a state party operation that provides expertise, resources and an overarching plan to take the fight to Democrats,” she said in a recent email to supporters. “I am committed to being a Chairman that welcomes and engages with everyone in our party,” read another email.

Meanwhile, former Assemblyman and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen and party activist Steve Frank both argue the party establishment is to blame for where California Republicans stand today.

“We are both grassroots California Republicans who are committed to turning around the last 15 years of failure,” reads a joint email sent to their supporters this week announcing a partnership between the two urging their delegates to support each other, should one of them advance beyond the first round of balloting. “The definition of insanity is continually repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result.”

The candidates for party chairperson will address the convention Saturday afternoon ahead of Sunday morning’s election.

Other speakers this weekend include former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney and last year’s unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate John Cox.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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