To rebuild the California Republican Party, Jim Brulte will first have to climb out from under a mountain of debt.
The former GOP Senate leader, who is expected to take the helm of the embattled party next month, said Wednesday that the party is between $500,000 and $800,000 in the red, a figure he says could vary based on the potential for legal battles with former vendors.
"This is more like a bankruptcy workout," Brulte said of setting up party infrastructure as chairman. "First of all you have to pay off your debt, hopefully while you're doing programs simultaneously. We have to increase our income and reduce our expenses, that's just prudent."
Brulte's estimate, which he said was based on briefings he's received, suggests a much more dire financial situation than the one depicted by the party's latest campaign finance filings, which showed its primary committee inching back into the black after a difficult year.
Anemic fundraising and cash issues forced the party to lay off staff and downsize its Sacramento office months before the November election. It now employs just three full-time staff members, two of whom work out of their homes.
In addition to the fundraising struggles, the party has seen its share of the electorate drop to a record low of less than 30 percent of the state's voters. Republicans hold no statewide office and lost key congressional and legislative races in 2012, ceding coveted supermajority control to Democrats in the statehouse.
Brulte chalked up the House and state Senate losses to President Barack Obama's landslide 23-point victory in the state and a new political district map that was advantageous to Democrats. But he said the surprise Assembly defeats were the result of "poor execution" on the part of the GOP and legislative leaders.
"We didn't have to lose those seats," he said. "We got away from the basics. That's political malpractice."
The Fontana Republican, who has worked in governmental affairs for Sacramento-based California Strategies and ran his own public affairs shop since leaving the Legislature in 2004, said the party must focus on "the nuts and bolts that are necessary to win elections" to prevent a replay of the 2012 results.
Brulte declined to take a position on policy and ideological rifts within the party, saying he sees his job as rebuilding candidate recruitment, voter registration and get-out-the-vote programs ahead of the 2014 contests, which as a midterm election will likely see lower Democratic turnout than the recent presidential vote.
He said fielding strong candidates, including a credible challenger to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, should be a top priority.
"I believe how you win as a party is by having everybody block and tackle and execute, and that means we have to contest every office from mosquito abatement district to utility districts, to city council, to county supervisor all the way up to governor," he said. "That should be our goal."
Brulte would not name names, but said he is "actually aware of some people who will probably be running for governor I have no doubt in my mind there will be a credible challenger to Governor (Jerry) Brown."
The current debt level means that the party will rely heavily on volunteers as he and other leaders seek to revive strategic and fundraising programs he said have been allowed to atrophy in recent years.
Brulte blamed, in part, a heavy reliance on cash generated by having former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in office.
"The party got lazy. It believed because it was getting these huge contributions there was infrastructure," he said. "Well, once we didn't have a Republican governor, some of those contributions dried up. We shouldn't be surprised by that."