Monday, September 19, 2011

Five important things Calbuzz learned at the California Republican Convention:

Lady Gaga and Ann Coulter were separated at birth. The Northwest Ordinance is one of the nation’s founding documents. Michele Bachmann believes chains are the key to freedom. Pat Boone knows for a fact Barack Obama was born in Africa. Ron Paul thinks life was better before World War I.

Those are a few highlights from the CRP’s weekend convention in Los Angeles, where a dozen TV cameras focused on public events featuring the stylings of the GOP’s No. 3 and 4 presidential wannabes and their Tea Party faithful.

At the same time, however, there were more serious and rational conversations, many behind-the-scenes, about issues like the electability of a Republican president, how the state party might begin to reverse its recent movement towards irrelevance and its troubled relationship with Latinos.

“The word ‘Republican,’ unfortunately,” observed one participant in a crowded discussion about the latter topic, “is repugnant to Latinos.”

Political junkie alert: First the more substantive stuff (those wanting to cut straight to the entertainment may skip this and the following two subheads).

New party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro predicted, in a lengthy press conference that opened the weekend, that the GOP is poised to make gains in California in 2012, given the recession-wracked economy, Gov. Jerry Brown’s leadership failures and President Obama’s flagging popularity.

So Del Beccaro said the GOP is energetically reaching out to women, Asians and especially Latinos. “We have to directly communicate with voters,” he said, adding that the GOP is currently defined by Democrats and the media.

But when we asked how the state GOP can attract Latino voters while it steadfastly opposes any sort of path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, Mr. Chairman dodged the question, saying the party must concentrate on a message of jobs, education and public safety.

‘Failure to communicate’

All well and good. Del Beccaro is a nice guy, sincere and earnest, and give him credit for understanding the problem he has to address. But will Latinos hear the economic message if Republicans remain tone deaf on immigration?

A stacked “town hall” meeting about Republicans and Latinos, which Del Beccaro engineered with Univision on Saturday, underscored the problem.

Like Strother Martin as the Captain, and Paul Newman’s title character in Cool Hand Luke, who says ironically, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,” GOP panelists unanimously said the party simply needs to get better at the way it shapes its message, rather than changing what it is communicating. But if the underlying message remains “No citizenship for you” it’s unlikely Latinos will ever hear what else the GOP might have to say.

Presidential pragmatists: Other practical-minded delegates meanwhile were more focused on processing the pros and cons of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, the actual GOP presidential contenders, neither one of whom bothered to show up. While Bachmann and Paul drew lots of coverage, their lack of electability made them more a sideshow for realpolitik apparatchiks.

“If you’re not elected, you can’t change things,” said Ron Edwards, of Stanislaus County, chairman of the Republican caucus of the California Teachers Association.

“The rest is just people just yelling,” he added, pointing to a noisy Ron Paul demonstration echoing inside the atrium lobby of the downtown J.W. Marriott Hotel (plenty of expensive parking, although the Emmys awards show setting up across the street took most of it).

Summing up the assets and liabilities of the two leaders, Edwards said he’s leaning towards Perry because of his policies on job creation in Texas, but also worries about Perry’s volatile statements on Social Security. He sees Romney as much more polished, but worries that as a Mormon, he can’t carry the base of evangelical Christians, especially in the South.

“The religion issue, for whatever reason, hasn’t been put to bed by Mitt,” he said, reflecting the fact that some evangelicals do not consider Mormons to be Christians and some even see the LDS Church as a cult.

Like other Republicans at the convention, Edwards is unsure whether the GOP – which normally wraps up its nomination fight early, avoiding nasty, protracted struggles — will close ranks behind one candidate before June, when California’s 172 delegates will be at stake.

It’s hard to envision either Perry or Romney – both of who will have plenty of money – dropping out unless one or the other pulls off a blow-out. And with Florida (with its huge retired population) a major player in the still-unsettled calendar, and in the wake of Perry’s attacks on Social Security, the notion of an early finish is far from certain.

Challenge for Difi? Some Republicans also discussed whether Senator Dianne Feinstein might suddenly be vulnerable – if the GOP can produce a credible challenger. The latest Field Poll found only 41% of voters support re-electing Feinstein while 44% are opposed. And her job approval is only 41-39% positive.

Among top-rank Republicans who could conceivably mount a serious challenge, Calbuzz favorite daughter Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO and failed candidate for governor, told us a while back there is no way in the world she would enter that race. Boo hoo.

Carly Fiorina, who came up way short last year against the diminutive Senator Barbara Boxer, has become vice chair of the GOP’s Senate campaign committee, but we’re pretty certain Dianne would clean Carly’s clock.

That leaves longshot scenarios, long one being spun about former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, or perennial window-shoppers like Representative David Dreier of the San Gabriel Valley, a potential contenders that senior GOP professionals might lean on.

“We’ve been trying to get Dreier to run for a while,” one top Republican consultant told Calbuzz.

Other names bandied about over the weekend included Michael Reagan, RR son and former radio host; whackjob birther Orly Taitz (Difi’s dream opponent); over-the-hill crooner Pat Boone (more below) and former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner (our Commish camp sources say he won’t get in the race).

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