Capitol Alert

Amid tense California Republican Party convention, chairman calls privately for fewer gatherings

California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte said in an e-mail to party leaders Saturday that he never thought the party should hold a convention so close to the general election and that he wants fewer conventions in the future.

His comments followed an e-mail in which Ron Nehring, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, complained bitterly about state controller candidate Ashley Swearengin “blowing off others on the statewide ticket.”

“I have never believed we should have a convention this late in the election cycle,” Brulte said, adding that “they are costly” and “the press come looking to write the narrative that Republicans are fighting.”

In the e-mail, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, Brulte wrote, “Let’s try to show our face of one big happy family… Move the needle forward for all our candidates in 2014… And then help me get rid of a couple of the four conventions this party has to hold every two years.”

In a separate message Saturday, apparently about Swearengin’s decision not to endorse Kashkari, Brulte wrote, “Felony stupid.”

Brulte’s remarks came on the second day of the state party’s biannual convention, after Swearengin, the mayor of Fresno, left open the possibility she will vote for Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in November. She has declined to endorse Neel Kashkari, the Republican candidate for governor, and her non-committal comments to reporters about Kashkari after a speech on Friday night dominated coverage of the first day of the party’s gathering.

Nehring complained the “main theme” of the coverage was “that of Ashley Swearengin distancing herself from Neel.”

“I doubt Ashley was given the prominence of speaking Friday night (the ONLY statewide candidate to be given a speaking role other than Sunday morning … as a platform to generate news by blowing off others on the statewide ticket,” he wrote. “This does NOT help the party, and it distracts from the efforts made to convey a positive theme. The coverage is not of a party expanding its reach. It’s about a party that isn’t unified because (its) candidates can’t get it together and get on the same page.”

Brulte, a former Senate Republican leader, responded that he could “yell and scream and rant and rave and tell everybody let’s try to behave,” but that doing so is “not my style” and that he has “no ability to enforce my will anyway.”

Brulte said it also “wasn’t pleasant” when Secretary of State candidate Pete Peterson told The Bee last week that Brulte had failed to articulate a vision for the GOP that would resonate with voters, but that “my response was I think (he’s) going to be a great Secretary of State and I’m glad he thinks I’m a brilliant tactician.”

Brulte said he hadn’t reviewed media coverage of the convention but that “I will trust Ron that our story line is getting stepped on...and that is tragic.”

Harmeet Dhillon, the party’s vice chair, responded that she agreed with Brulte.

“I also fully support our ticket and don’t think it is cool of any candidate to distance themselves from it,” she wrote. “I have said nothing but good things about all of them in the media.”

She went on, “We have many media opportunities today. I hope everyone can be a team player and not complain about each other, on or off the record. Our party deserves better.”

Aaron McLear, a Kashkari adviser, responded to the party leaders in an email, saying Kashkari “will continue to say nice things about everyone, and I’ll continue to be baffled by the Mayor’s (Swearengin’s) strategy. As Ron notes, it is absolutely eclipsing whatever message she and the CRP (were) hoping to deliver this weekend.”

Brulte responded: “Felony stupid.”

Swearengin consultant Tim Clark said Saturday night that Swearengin “needs a chance to meet with Neel and understand his vision and perspective.”

“She’s asking for a chance to get that time before she gives her stamp of approval,” he said.

Swearengin refused on Friday to say whether Kashkari asked for a meeting at the convention.

According to the Kashkari campaign, he did.

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