Arnold’s Party Burlingame, Calif.–The fact that I had to wait in line for 15 minutes to get press credentials spoke volumes about the California Republican Convention last week. What was becoming a progressively smaller conclave as Democrats consistently swept statewide elections–and thus attracted fewer reporters–had clearly bounced back in attendance and press coverage. The first GOP convention since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took office last fall drew more than 1,300 delegates and guests and over 75 reporters. All the rooms at the Burlingame Hyatt Hotel were taken 30 days before the opening session. Without question, the party is now Schwarzenegger driven. Where the predominantly conservative conventions often clashed heatedly with moderate Gov. (1990-98) Pete Wilson. The conventioneers this year–albeit still largely from the right–swallowed disagreements with Schwarzenegger and voiced public support for the lone Republican in statewide office. Indeed, despite dismay on the right for Proposition 57 (Schwarzenegger’s $15-billion bond initiative), a voice vote of the convention endorsed the measure that is on the March 2 ballot, along with backing its sister Proposition 58, the governor’s cap on state spending. Acknowledging the GOP’s historical distaste for the government’s spending money it doesn’t have to service debt, State Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte appeared to speak for many when he said to me of Schwarzenegger’s plan: “It’s the least bad alternative.” The governor himself said in his convention speech “Trust me!”–and delegates apparently did. While the state party headquarters operated in the red a year ago, State Chairman Duf Sundheim told me it was now “$3.5 million in the black–and mailings featuring the governor do very, very well.” For the most part, conservatives appear to have put behind them their two-years long animosity toward the party reorganization plan crafted by Bush-Cheney state chairman Gerald Parsky, who was applauded warmly when he addressed the Saturday evening banquet honoring Brulte. And, in contrast to some of the vitriolic battles for party offices in the past, the two Republican National Committee members were re-elected after spirited-but-genteel battles. Committeeman Tim Morgan rebuffed a challenge by former State Party Chairman Tirso Del Junco by a 2-to-1 margin and Committeewoman Barbara Alby beat Utah Grizzlies baseball team owner Donna Tuttle by 60 votes out of over 1,000 cast. Clinton, Cox, and Illegals Although all four Republican Senate candidates worked the convention and various U.S. House hopefuls were in Burlingame, there was also considerable discussion about the most incendiary Republican primary for any legislative seat, the battle in the 70th Assembly District, where the two leading contenders in the six-candidate field are Chuck DeVore, a onetime aide to conservative Rep. Christopher Cox (R.-Calif.), and a U.S. Army National Guard major, and wealthy Newport Beach businesswoman Cristi Cristich, who made headlines in 1996 as a high-profile “Republican for Clinton” in Orange County. Pounding hard at Cristich’s Clinton association, DeVore (who narrowly lost a bid for Irvine City Council last year) has been regarded as the front-runner. But, given Cristich’s willingness to spend her money lavishly on the campaign, no one is calling a sure winner yet. One week before the state convention, however, Cristich may have stumbled fatally. In a mailing to tens of thousands of registered Republicans, the moderate hopeful featured “An Important Message” from “Congressman Christopher Cox” and a photo of the congressman. “I look forward to working with you as a state legislator,” read a quote from a letter from the fifth-ranking Republican in the House Leadership to Cristich. Could it be that Cox was endorsing a moderate Republican over onetime staffer DeVore? Not so at all and, in Cox’s own words, the Cristich mailer invoking his name was “unethical,” “deceptive,” and “pure counterfeit.” In interviews with Orange County reporters and a letter from Cox Campaign Chairman Robert Sutcliffe, an obviously angry congressman denounced the Cristich campaign and set the record straight. Cristich, Cox and Sutcliffe pointed out, cut the words “if you are successful in March” from his letter to her after the words “as a state legislator” and eliminated the main point of his initial letter: “I have for 16 years followed a tradition of not endorsing candidates for the legislature in contested Republican primaries.” Suggesting legal action, a letter from Sutcliffe demanded that Cristich spend the same amount of money mailing the retraction to the same voters. (She did so several days later.) With days to go before the primary, the conservative California Republican Assembly sent out a mailer highlighting Cristich’s Clinton endorsement, her admission that her company had hired illegal aliens, and the Cox flap. The mailer features a baseball catcher and the legend: “Three Strikes You’re Out!” (DeVore in ’04, 4790 Irvine Boulevard, Suite #105191, Irvine, Calif. 92620; 949-540-7070) Is Main Street Straight and Narrow? “I’ve got $20,000 riding on this guy winning the primary in the 3rd [Congressional District],” State Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte said to me during a break in the convention, as we sat in a Golden Circle suite with his colleague, Sen. Rico Oller. With moderate Republican Rep. Doug Ose (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 68%) retiring, conservative stalwart Oller is the GOP front-runner in the Sacramento-based 3rd. Earlier there had been predictions that former State Attorney General (1990-98) and Long Beach-area U.S. Rep. (1978-88) Dan Lungren might make a comeback bid in this district, which he never represented in Congress; but Lungren’s carpetbagging, the disgust among GOPers over his poorly-run bid for governor in ’98, and his vote in Congress for an amnesty for illegal immigrants seem to have persuaded him to remain on the sidelines. Days before the primary, Oller’s remaining worry was Ose–Mary Ose, sister of the outgoing congressman, who is using a big chunk of the family fortune and a televised endorsement from brother Doug to rise in the polls. Last week, Mary Ose got another boost with the announcement by the moderate Main Street Individual Fund that it would do a last-minute independent expenditure on her behalf. The moderate GOP equivalent of the conservative Club for Growth, the Main Street Individual Fund is reportedly spending $150,000 in TV spots to support Mary Ose. TARS: The Next Generation When former California Republican Chairman a Shawn Steel, a conservative swashbuckler, first got involved in politics in the early 1960s, it was as part of a group of Goldwater enthusiasts who took over a Teen Age Republican Club in Los Angeles County. Four decades later, Palos Verdes high school student Cheyenne Steel is following the trail blazed by her father by trying to revive the long-moribund California Teen Age Republicans. From the evidence at the state convention, her months-long efforts have begun to bear fruit: more than 40 teenagers–at least one of them a Middle School student–took 36 hours away from exams, book reports, and sports to take a bus to Burlingame for their first convention. From all accounts at a Saturday meeting in Chairman Sundheim’s suite before they dined on pizza, the budding GOP activists loved their baptism and planned to continue the politicking. “There is not a lot of discussion of political issues in my school,” Palos Verdes high schooler Kevin Iwaki told me, “So given a chance, I wanted to come here and learn myself.” All told, Teen Age Republicans from ten schools in Southern California and one in the North came to Burlingame and will begin the process of organizing a statewide federation. Just as Shawn Steel was part of a group of pro-Goldwater TARs, the group in Burlingame appeared to be more conservative than many of their elders in party offices. A show of hands indicated that last year more of them backed conservative State Sen. Tom McClintock than the more moderate Schwarzenegger in the gubernatorial replacement election. “I liked Mr. McCintock’s past record and that he told us what he was going to do and be,” Pomona Senior High’s Amos Young, the son of a black pastor, told me. (Interestingly, Cheyenne’s sister Siobhan Steel also said that she “had a lot of faith in that guy [McClintock] because he was straightforward and humble and he was cute.” Her father upset some on the right when he led the fight for an early GOP endorsement of Schwarzenegger). In contact with the California TARs over chartering them as part of the national TAR federation is–you guessed it–Barbie Wells, who has been overseeing Teen Age Republican clubs since 1966.
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