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Scott Harris: Republicans ... Dead Party Walking?

In a state with a huge and growing Latino population and two women senators, can you name a single prominent female or Latino Republican?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Sen. Tom McClintock are California’s best-known Republicans.

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Scott Harris

McClintock is the quintessential Republican candidate for statewide office. He is a middle-aged, upper-middle class, white, male career politician. He currently serves as state senator for Santa Barbara and the 19th District, where he hasn’t lived in years, and is running for Congress in the 4th District, where he not only doesn’t live, he can’t even vote. He is inflexible and incapable of compromise and, as a result, receives little to no Republican support in Sacramento. He has lost statewide races for controller, lieutenant governor and governor. However, Republicans in the 4th Congressional District will send him to Washington this fall and, like the swallows returning to Capistrano, you can count on McClintock someday running again for statewide office.

Schwarzenegger, while meeting the current Republican mandatory minimum (white and male) is a bit of a wild card and shunned by many in his party (including most Sacramento Republicans) because of his willingness to compromise on issues both fiscal (currently entertaining the idea of tax increases) and social (withdrawing his opposition to same-sex marriages). He was only elected to office because the 2003 recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis went straight to a general election and opened the door to the Governor’s Office without having to go through a Republican primary.

Since 1994, Republicans have won only four of the 24 statewide offices and, with the possible exception of state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner (again, wealthy, white and male), they do not have a legitimate, recognized candidate ready to run for statewide office in 2010. Republicans represent only 33 percent of California’s registered voters, and that number is dropping quickly. In a state with a huge and growing Latino population (think Fabian Nuñez and Antonio Villaraigosa) and two women Senators (Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer) can you name a single prominent female or Latino Republican? If you think that’s tough, how about naming a well-known gay Republican?

Tired of losing, former California Republican Party chairman Duf Sundheim, along with other prominent moderate Republicans, has recently formed California Republicans Aligned for Tomorrow (CRAFT). Simply put, Sundheim and his co-founders, including former Gov. Pete Wilson, would like to see moderate (i.e., viable) Republicans run for governor, U.S. Senate and other California statewide offices. Sundheim knows California is becoming more liberal, the Latino population is growing, women are playing a larger role, and the only party showing any significant growth is Decline To State. Ignoring or denying these realities has proven to be a recipe for failure for the Republican Party.

The goal of CRAFT is to find “strong Republican candidates,” although at this stage in the group’s development, Sundheim was unwilling to define “strong candidates” or give examples of who they might be. His group will not be endorsing candidates, but rather will serve as a training and advisory resource for Republicans seeking statewide office.

“Our mission statement is to identify and encourage Republicans who would do a great job if elected,” said Sundheim. When asked about women, independents and Latinos, he said, “The best quality candidates would reflect the state’s diversity.”

In addition to Sundheim and Wilson, the group has the support of Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines, Senate Republican Leader Dave Codgill, and Sundheim’s successor as state party chairman, Ron Nehring. I also have to imagine that if CRAFT does what it says it will, it will have the support of every gay, Latino and female conservative in the state, a group that collectively could bring the Republican Party back to life in California.

They have taken two steps in that direction in recent weeks. First, Wilson publicly blasted McClintock, saying he couldn’t be counted on in the Legislature and should not be sent to Congress. “He was always the first to criticize, but the last to help his own team,” Wilson said. This rare intra-party attack is a clear sign that change is coming.

The second clear sign is the frequency with which we are hearing the name Whitman as a potential Republican candidate for governor in two years. Whitman is wealthy, white and a Silicon Valley CEO. The change? Whitman’s first name is Meg and she is a woman.

Scott Harris is a political commentator. Read his columns and contact him through his Web site, www.ScottHarris.biz, or e-mail him at [email protected]

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