Battered California GOP Looks to Refashion Its Image

By Justin Torres | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

Los Angeles, CA ( - The California Republican Party, reeling from recent election disasters, is hoping that an expected high voter turnout for Tuesday's presidential primary will mark a resurgence of GOP viability in the Golden State.

The California GOP was beset by internecine warfare in the wake of the electoral slaughter of 1998, when Attorney General Dan Lundgren was defeated by more than 20 points in the gubernatorial race by Democrat Gray Davis.

Lundgren's defeat touched off a struggle for control of the state party between religious and social conservatives and economic moderates. The publicity surrounding the struggle dried up contributions to the party, and by the summer of 1999, the California GOP found itself $2.5 million in debt.

Since then, however, the party leadership has stabilized, contributions are flowing in again, the debt from the 1998 election has been retired, and party activists say that they are adjusting to the realities of the new California.

In the next census, according to Mark Baldassare, author of California in the New Millenium, the state is expected to become the first in the nation whose population is more than 50 percent minority. That trend, along with the explosive growth in Silicon Valley technology workers, is rapidly changing the nature of the Golden State's electorate - rendering inoperative the old conservative, low-tax alliance that vaulted former California Gov. Ronald Reagan to prominence.

"The Reagan alliance in California drew together the Christian Right, tax cutters, and libertarians in support of limited government," said Baldassare, who added that Lundgren's defeat proves that this alliance is now outdated.

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Bill Jones, California's highest-ranking elected Republican, told that California voters are ready for the reform agenda being advanced by both of the leading Republican contenders, Texas Governor George W. Bush and Arizona Senator John McCain (whom Jones has endorsed).

Bush and McCain "are proving that you can be pro-government without being pro-big government" said the spokesperson, who added that expected high turnout for the primary is a sign "of the excitement that voters have for the Republican candidates."

California's primary is open to all registered voters, but only the votes of registered Republicans will count toward seating delegates at the GOP national convention in Philadelphia.

A recent Los Angeles Times poll shows McCain and Bush close in the popular vote, but indicates that Bush has a 19-point lead among Republicans.

McCain campaigned in Silicon Valley Sunday, repeating charges that the Bush campaign had coordinated a series of television ads - paid for by a pair of Texas financiers - that slam McCain's environmental record. He also rallied supporters by reminding them that polls have shifted dramatically in the final 48 hours before a primary throughout the election season.

The senator repeated that assertion on Sunday's Meet the Press, claiming that "the models of the pollsters are not indicative in some ways because we've had such huge voter turnouts."

Stumping through the northern part of the state, Bush denied that his campaign was behind the ads, and expressed confidence that he will win both the delegate count and the popular vote in California.