Pawlenty, Poizner Score at Western CPAC

Newport Beach, Cal. — According to conference organizer Jim Lacy noted, this CPAC had more than 350 attendees, or more than twice the 160 who came to same conclave last year.

But even more significant was the number of people I met that I had never met before.  It would be a disturbing sign at any conservative conference to only see the same old faces, but that was certainly not the case at Western CPAC. While there were many familiar conservative stalwarts from the Golden State — National Tax Limitation Committee head Lew Uhler, “Flash Report” editor Jon Fleischman, and alumni of the conservative California Republican Assembly — there were legions of young people and first time attendees at the Radisson.  

Villa Park Councilwoman Deborah Pauly, for example, arranged for more than a dozen high school and college age conservatives to attend the conference.  One of them, 19-year-old Tyler Briscoe of Vanguard University, told me he was a conservative because “I believe in personal responsibility.  I like working for something rather than having it handed to me.”(Pauly’s conservative up-and-comers are planning a major gathering at a “Bonfire of the Right” October 24 — “our answer to the ‘fireside chat,’” she quipped.)

“The conservative movement has always been out there, but just not fully activated,” remarked Megan Barth, correspondent for the “Red County” on-line magazine and organizer of a tea party that drew 5000 on September 12.  Like other “tea party” activsts, Barth was attending her first CPAC.

And there was political news to be reported. . .
Is Upset in Works in Special U.S. House Race Nov. 3?

Newport Beach is nowhere near the 10th U.S. House District, but the special election for the seat of former Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher in the Northern California-based district was one of the most talked-of topics at the Western CPAC.

With seventeen days to go before the race to replace Tauscher (who resigned to accept a high State Department post earlier this year), Democratic nominee and Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi made a major stumble last week.  In attacking conservative Republican hopeful David Harmer, a Garamendi mailer charged that the GOP nominee “supports off-shoring jobs.”  The mailer cites a Deseret (Utah) News article from 2004, quoting David Harmer, executive director of the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

The problem with this attack, noted the Capitol Hill publication The Hill, is that the Garamendi campaign “is attacking the wrong David Harmer.”  The David Harmer running for Congress in the November 3 race told reporters it was not him and he wasn’t living in Utah at the time.

Last week one poll showed businessman-lawyer Harmer trailing Garamendi by seven points district-wide.  

In a district where most elective offices are held by Democrats and which Tauscher held with little trouble from 1992 until resigning this year, the odds favor Garamendi.  But based on the enthusiasm demonstrated for Harmer among California conservatives and the strong (and erroneous) broadside fired against him by the Garamendi team, there are recent signs an upset could be in the works.  The Harmer campaign reportedly has a strong get-out-the vote effort in the district’s reliably Republican pockets such as that around Travis Air Force Base and in the retirement community of Paradise Valley Estates.  

Before his anti-Harmer strike on the wrong Harmer, arch-liberal Garamendi was under fire for his unequivocal support of a health care plan that included “public option.”  In the Democratic primary, the lieutenant governor won with a plurality over several opponents, all of whom pointed out that he and wife Patty (who has run for Congress in another district) do not live in the 10th.  

But given the Democratic history of the 10th, the question kept coming up among the activists at Western CPAC:  does Harmer really have a chance of pulling off a win?

“Yes,” veteran Northern California political consultant and onetime Republican National Committee field man Harvey Hukari told me, “While that issue of residency and charge of carpetbagging does not in itself defeat candidates in California, it can be powerful if a candidate is already controversial, as Garamendi surely is.  And it didn’t help matters when Bill Clinton made an appearance on Garamendi’s behalf and it was held outside the boundaries of the 10th.”  

Pawlenty Gets High Marks at Western CPAC

While many of those who heard Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s dinner speech at the Western CPAC this weekend said they still didn’t know a lot about him, most gave the two-term chief executive and 2012 GOP presidential possibility high marks for his remarks.

“I though Pawlenty was excellent,” Newport Beach City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle told me after his address, in which the governor emphasized his record in balancing the budget of the Gopher State and slammed the Obama administration for reckless spending, “He offered practical solutions, and case studies of things he implemented.”

State GOP Vice Chairman Tom Del Beccaro agreed, concluding that Pawlenty “gets better all the time as a speaker.  I liked the way he demonstrates how a conservative can succeed in a very different political environment.  We need to hear that here in California.”

In both his dinner address and in an interview with me earlier on Friday (October 16), the 49-year-old Pawlenty went to great lengths to emphasize his conservative credentials.  Regarding rumors floating around that he supported the “cap and trade” legislation that passed the House and is now before the Senate, the governor said no way.

“I wrote a letter to our congressional delegation urging them to oppose cap and trade,” he told me, “I do believe we should all take reasonable steps to reduce pollution.  But don’t wreck the economy and that’s what would happen with the cap-and-trade scheme.”  Pawlenty went on to say there were “tremendous opportunities” that should be explored for dealing with the energy shortage that are also environmentally sound, citing the development of newfound natural gas in West Virginia.

Pawlenty clearly pressed all the right buttons with conservatives in his remarks:  calling for the removal of Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-NY) as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee (“If you or I overlooked reporting $600,000 in income, we’d be cleaning litter up in cell bloc D”); saying the best thing about the “cash for clunkers” program was that “it got a bunch of cars with Barack Obama stickers off the road;” contrasting his own record of cutting state taxes and bring spending down to sub-inflation levels with Obama’s free-spending agenda (“If we’re out of money, Mr. President, stop spending it!”).

Giving the federal government a greater hand in the economy, he said, “was like letting Michael Vick watch your dog for the weekend.”

The CPAC address also marked one of the first occasions in which Pawlenty discussed foreign policy issues.  He denounced the Administration’s reversal of George Bush’s commitment to a missile defense in the Czech Republic and Poland and quoted former Polish President Lech Walsea’s withering criticism: “You can’t trust the USA.  They only look out for themselves.”  He also warned about Red China purchasing U.S. debt, asking the audience: “How much leverage do we really have when we are in a pathetic debtor status?”

Along with political aides Phil Musser and Alex Conant, Pawlenty made it clear that he was focused on helping other Republicans through his newly-organized Freedom First Political Action rather than running for President in three years.  He went on to list a number of subsequent stops after the CPAC conference, one of which was at a event next month in Iowa. 

Poizner Woos Right, Slams Whitman on “Con-Con”

Continuing his courtship of right-of-center Republican activists who will be a key force in the primary for governor next June, State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner took some hits at fellow GOP gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman during the Western CPAC conference this weekend.

As he did during the state Republican convention in Indian Wells two weeks ago, Poizner, as luncheon speaker at CPAC, underscored his commitment to cutting state sales and income taxes by 10% and the state capital gains tax by 50%.  He also took a swipe at a frequent target of conservatives, lame duck GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for signing a $16 billion tax increase earlier this year (which voters subsequently rejected in a statewide initiative).

But Poizner also went after primary foe Whitman for recent remarks in which the former eBay chief executive officer was quoted as saying she favored a “constitutional convention” in the Golden State.  Conservatives have voiced alarm that a “con-con” would undo major proposals enacted under the Golden State’s system of initiative and referendum and Poizner hit that hard.

“That’s what I have seen reported,” he said in response to a question following his remarks, “and this would be a back-door to undoing Proposition 13 [the celebrated 1978 referendum that provides a ceiling on property taxes] and the two-thirds majority [of voters that is required to approve any tax increase.”

A constitutional convention, warned Poizner, would be “too unknown and too uncertain.”

Poizner’s jabs at Whitman were the latest evidence he is wooing the predominantly right-of-center grass-roots GOP.  He pointedly reminded the CPAC audience that he supported the winning initiative that reaffirmed marriage as a union between man and woman, The insurance commissioner and onetime National Security Council staffer makes no secret that he is not pro-life (but unlike Whitman, he opposes tax dollars for abortions) and rarely discusses any cultural issues except his support for the marriage initiative.

However, in underscoring his support for major tax cuts and in addressing Whitman’s “con-con” issue, it was obvious Poizner was positioning himself to the right of both Whitman and the third GOP gubernatorial hopeful, liberal former Rep. Tom Campbell.  At Western CPAC, at least, he appeared successful.  Poizner was  warmly introduced to the crowd and endorsed by former Orange County GOP Chairman and much-revered conservative Tom Fuentes, and his address drew a standing ovation.

For her part, Whitman did appear at Fuentes birthday party at the conference the night before and spoke briefly — albeit with no major policy statements — at an event hosted by the Orange County Lincoln Club.

Most polls show Whitman running ahead of Poizner among likely GOP voters statewide.  However, as many conference participants reminded me, the last time there was a contested Republican primary for governor (2002), the candidate who started far behind and was seen as more conservative (businessman William Simon, Jr.) ended up pummeling the early front-runner who was seen as more liberal (former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan).


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