Dan Walters

Opinion: State GOP’s new motto: ‘We get it’

The theme of Friday night’s state Republican Party convention dinner was “Celebrating Our Successes,” which would seem to be an oxymoron.

After all, the party didn’t win any statewide offices last year and dropped one of its congressional seats.

Moreover, as delegates attending a briefing on political demographics were told Saturday, they have been on the losing side of the state’s societal megatrends, such as a decline of the white population, a million-voter edge of women voters over men, declining marriage rates and increasing cultural secularization.

So was there anything for Republicans to celebrate at this weekend’s convention?

Yes, in a way.

They did pick up enough legislative seats last year to end the Democrats’ short-lived two-thirds “supermajorities.” But mostly, they seem to be celebrating three unspoken words: “we get it.”

After years of denial, a financial meltdown and hitting rock bottom in the 2012 elections, the GOP brought in former state Sen. Jim Brulte as its chairman.

Brulte, long an advocate of message realignment, has repaired the party’s finances and concentrated on recruiting and backing diverse candidates for local government, as well as for legislative seats, while not wasting resources on expensive and unwinnable statewide campaigns.

Kristin Olsen, the Assembly’s new Republican leader, said the party seeks “credible alternatives to Democrat rule ... that truly reflect the changing demographics of California.”

“We’re trying to build the party back, brick by brick,” her counterpart in the Senate, Bob Huff, added as the two showcased a diverse array of newly elected legislators, including several Asian women.

That said, the party did field moderate and diverse candidates for statewide offices last year, led by Neel Kashkari, an Indo-American Hindu who made a suicide run against Gov. Jerry Brown. Given adverse circumstances, the ticket did fairly well, running well above registration.

The GOP’s biggest challenge is holding onto its modest legislative gains.

The party was helped by an ultra-low 2014 voter turnout, which offset its 15-percentage-point registration disadvantage. But turnout is likely to be at least 50 percent higher in 2016 because it will be a presidential year.

Then there’s that U.S. Senate seat that Democrat Barbara Boxer is vacating. Republicans may pray that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will run, but there’s virtually zero chance she will.

Their best hope is to field another moderate, ethnically diverse candidate in the Kashkari mold – not only to further realign its image with reality but to block a wacky fringe candidate from embarrassing it.

That role might be filled by San Diego County Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, a moderate Latino with a distinguished Marine Corps career who shows every sign of making the run.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.