Calif. GOP puts turn-around hopes in ex-lawmaker

By JULIET WILLIAMS | March 3, 2013 | 6:29 PM EST

Former state Senator Jim Brulte, of Rancho Cucamonga, talks with reporters after being elected as California Republican Party chairman during the CRP convention held in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, March 3, 2013. San Francisco County Chairwoman Harmeet Dhillon, left, was elected as the party's vice chairperson, the first woman to hold the position. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Republicans have chosen a former state lawmaker known for his fundraising work to lead the party back from the brink of irrelevance in a state that once was a GOP stronghold.

More than 1,000 delegates to the state party's spring convention elected Jim Brulte as party chairman on Sunday. They also elected the first woman and first Sikh, Harmeet Dhillon, to serve as the party's vice-chairwoman.

Republicans hold no statewide office and just a third of the state Legislature. Registration has dropped to less than 30 percent of state voters.

The party's national significance lies in the state's 55 electoral votes, which is the largest share in the country. It has not voted for a Republican presidential nominee since George H.W. Bush in 1988.