Jeff Randle is president and CEO of Randle Communications. He was a senior adviser to Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman and served as deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Pete Wilson.

Viewpoints: GOP needs new playbook to rebound in California

Published: Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012 - 10:33 am

Republicans have a great chance to make Barack Obama a one-term president while expanding our majority in Congress. Optimism abounds in states across America as GOP candidates are poised to win elections at all levels of government by running against the Obama record.

In California, however, things are different. Republicans have lost ground and, more importantly, lost our connection with swing voters that today decide elections. To succeed here, Republicans must become consequential to this generation of Californians.

A Field Poll taken late last summer, focusing on the composition of the Republican Party in California, was a stunning demonstration of how bad things are. The Republican Party may be the only significant entity in California that is experiencing a severe contraction of its diversity. Or, more simply stated, the Republican Party is getting smaller, older and whiter.

Registration has declined even though the state added more than 2 million voters since 2000. We represent only 30 percent of voters, and those under 40 are not registering GOP. Decline-to-state registration is rising, and we are collapsing into a narrowly defined ideological corner that alienates moderate and independent voters.

If this trend continues, Republicans will soon be third in California's two-party system.

The numbers are a backdrop to the image our party has crafted and how we have allowed our opponents to seize upon this weakness to distort our vision for California. It makes no sense that the public should prefer Democratic control when, in poll after poll, they express overwhelming support for causes that define fundamental differences between Democrats and Republicans. These views include a preference for limits on government spending to avoid deep deficits, rooting out waste and inefficiency, and reforms to government pensions that are already beginning to squeeze out funding for schools, police and fire protection.

To be sure, we must continue to aggressively fight irresponsible policies from the left and counter their narrative that government is the answer to all our problems given enough "investment" from taxpayers. But we must tend to our own house as well, immediately, if we hope to have credibility in that ongoing debate.

The GOP is not the incredible shrinking party because it's wrong on the issues fundamental to California's plight. The sad irony is that we are right, and perhaps because of that, we have stopped delivering the message Californians need to hear.

Republicans have become all too comfortable talking to ourselves, insulated in the satisfaction of reinforcing our beliefs. That is very different from taking those same beliefs, policies and solutions and connecting them to the values and aspirations of independent and conservative Democratic voters. Because we are not doing that, we are perceived by those critical voters as indifferent to them, and they understandably write us off.

Right now what these voters hear are Republicans talking to themselves, not to them. We cement this perception by fielding candidates who all look and talk the same.

Republicans once had five Latinos in the state Legislature. Today we have none. This is another fatal trend for the GOP. As the Latino population has expanded, we have missed a great opportunity to connect.

Because we have allowed our image and ranks to decay, today, we have a higher wall of credibility to climb with youths, minority and women voters. Similarly, because we have conceded the daily message battle to Democrats, they dominate the media, happy to deliver their rhetoric to swing voters virtually unchallenged. We need to be smart enough to talk with these voters – not at them – and it has to be on their terms.

Time is of the essence. Republicans should have a dedicated effort to recruit Latinos for non-partisan offices. We must also prove our sincerity by funding Latino Republicans in safe Assembly and Senate seats as well as swing districts. And we have to connect with independent voters who support our policies on government reform, fiscal accountability and tax fairness.

We need to match the promise of a Republican agenda with a better presentation of candidates and policies. History also suggests that Democrats will overreach and abuse their power. Yet if our hope is that voters will "organically" turn to the GOP, our opportunity will be lost. Republicans must fight to win, not hope Democrats lose.

A Republican resurgence is possible, but only if we change our playbook and implement a new offense. The game of politics is winning elections, and scoring is possible only by defining Republicans on our terms, and connecting with voters on theirs.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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