By JULIET WILLIAMS
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ California Republicans are looking to put a new face on their party after decades of declining registration in a state that increasingly leans to the left politically.
The effort starts with wiping out what leaders say are outdated ideas about what it means to be a Republican: older, white and socially conservative.
As part of that push, the party kicked off its fall convention Friday in Los Angeles by promoting “the women of the GOP.” A diverse roster of nearly 30 female candidates for office and women who lead nine of the state’s county chapters took the stage at a ticketed dinner banquet. They included Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway of Tulare, who will be replaced by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen of Modesto when Conway is termed out of office in November.
State Board of Equalization member Michelle Steel introduced the party’s highest female nominee in the November election, controller candidate Ashley Swearengin, whom she said she hopes will replace her as the party’s highest-ranking elected woman.
Swearengin, the Fresno mayor who was recruited by party Chairman Jim Brulte to run, is seen as one of the GOP’s best hopes this fall. But she also is a somewhat of an unusual choice to kick off the weekend events because she has been distancing herself from the Republican brand. Swearengin declined to endorse gubernatorial nominee Neel Kashkari or campaign with the rest of the party’s candidates for statewide office.
In a news release promoting her speech Friday, Swearengin’s campaign said she would discuss the “new, post-partisan coalition growing in California politics,” along with contrasting the differences between herself and the Democrat’s nominee for controller, Betty Yee.
But her prepared remarks given to reporters read mostly like previous addresses in which she focused on her leadership of Fresno, promoting what she said was a fiscal turnaround in a city once on the verge of bankruptcy. She touched only lightly on politics, saying that strong financial leadership will require people who are willing to stand up “to the status quo thinking in Sacramento.”
“We are going to need as big a coalition as possible for any chance of victory,” she said in the prepared remarks. “In my view, we ought to embrace any and all who are willing to accept the challenge of restoring the long-term financial health of the state.”
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican who coined the term “post-partisan,” implored California Republicans to expand their tent to include more people with a broader spectrum of ideas in 2007, but his message was met with a thud. Republicans had around 35 percent of the state’s voter registration then and have since slid to 28.5 percent.
Kashkari is expanding on that theme this weekend, hosting a “big tent” social event Friday night with the New Majority, a socially moderate Southern California group, the gay-rights Log Cabin Republicans and Grow Elect, which has been recruiting Latino Republicans to run for local and state offices.
Republicans also are promoting a roster of legislative candidates who they say are representative of the districts in which they are running: ethnically diverse, younger and with varying positions on social issues. They include Korean-American Young Kim, who is trying to reclaim an Orange County Assembly seat Republicans lost two years ago, and Mario Guerra, who emigrated from Cuba who is seeking a Los Angeles-area state Senate seat.
But the party has only one female nominee for California’s 53 congressional seats: state Sen. Mimi Walters. Its statewide nominees are all white aside from Kashkari, who is Indian-American, and includes just one other woman, Board of Equalization candidate Diane Harkey.
The biggest draw for many Republicans was Saturday’s lunchtime address by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a prospective 2016 presidential candidate who has been traveling the country this year. On Saturday night, California Republicans heard from newly elevated House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a former state lawmaker from Bakersfield.