By Carla Marinucci
Sunday, March 8, 2015 – Updated 7:53 pm

Republicans are down on their luck in California. They don’t hold a single statewide office, and their image isn’t getting any help from their colleagues in Washington, who seem unable to get anything done in Congress.

Those problems have led some in the embattled party to conclude that the California GOP is in need of a rebranding, perhaps going so far as to de-emphasize the “R” affiliation in upcoming campaigns.

“If it’s a Republican versus Democrat … if it’s that narrative, I don’t have a chance,” said George “Duf” Sundheim, the moderate former state party chairman who is considering a run against Democrat Kamala Harris, now the state’s attorney general, in the 2016 race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer.

In a campaign that could emphasize stagnant wages and improvements to education — and not the divisive social issues Republicans have so frequently emphasized — “I won’t be going around with an ‘R’ on my forehead,” Sundheim said.

State Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, a Republican from Oceanside (San Diego County) who announced his run for that Senate seat on Thursday, said, “The way that we’re going to win is that … we’re not going to run a Democrat-Republican race. We’re going to run a California race.”

Washington sets image

At the state GOP’s three-day convention in Sacramento last month, many members of the party, which lags 14 points behind Democrats in voter registration in California, searched for ways to respond to the changing demographics that hold the key to their party’s revival in the nation’s most populous state.

Many experts and party loyalists say that will be a long-term challenge that involves rebranding the party’s message in California.

“Right now, the Republican brand is defined by Washington, by the party in Congress,” said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of the University of Southern California. Democrats won the recent fight over funding for the Department of Homeland Security, but the drama, Bebitch Jeffe said, focused attention on “Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Boehner — and that’s a real problem for California Republicans. … They’re tarred with that brand.”

Even conservative Tom Del Beccaro, another former state party chairman who has formed an exploratory committee with an eye on the U.S. Senate seat, expressed disdain for the goings-on in Washington.

“I don’t accept what Republicans have been doing for the last six years” in Washington, he said. Del Becarro said he believes President Obama acted unconstitutionally in issuing an executive order on immigration that has since been put on hold by the courts and which Republicans in Congress tried to tie to the Homeland funding, but he argued the party has failed to make its case. Last year, “Republicans won the (midterm) election … but they’re not going out and talking to the American people.”

Chavez was also highly critical of his GOP counterparts, but for a different reason. Had he been in the nation’s capital, “I would have been in there fighting for immigration reform.”

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