I spent last weekend at the Burlingame Hyatt Regency hotel, not as a guest but as a participant in something flying under the radar of most Californians. The California Republican Party held its semiannual convention with the theme “Rebuild Renew Reclaim” and by all accounts it is doing just that.
Most people in San Mateo County might find that hard to believe, since Republicans cannot claim a single elected official in partisan offices within the county. However, at the same time, Republicans are surging in the state and across the country. Many pundits, including Chris Matthews of MSNBC, concede that this fall Republicans are poised to take control of the U.S. Senate as well as increase their majorities in the House of Representatives and in state legislatures across the country.
And right here in California, recent special elections have shown surprising strength for a party proclaimed to be on life support. Last month, Kevin Faulcouner won as mayor of San Diego in a special election held in the wake of the resignation of Democrat Bob “Filthy” Filner. The almost 10-point victory came in city where President Obama won by 25 points and Democrats hold a 13-point lead over Republicans in registration.
Last year, Hanford farmer Andy Vidak won a special election for state Senate with nearly 52 percent of the vote, in a district that is both majority Democratic and majority Hispanic. In addition, in November, Republican Susan Shelly lost a special election for the Assembly by only 329 votes in a heavily Democratic district in the San Fernando Valley.
Moreover, the Los Angeles Times reports that four California Democratic freshmen representatives are endangered this fall, including districts in the San Diego, San Bernardino, Ventura and Sacramento areas.
Delegates and attendees at the convention reveled in the newfound energy and excitement. Hordes of College and Young Republicans roamed the convention floor, and danced the night away in former Treasury official and gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari’s hospitality suite. Older delegates gathered to hear Venezuelan actress Maria Conchita Alonso sing in support of candidate Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who is also running for governor.
But the true hot spot was the luau-themed party hosted by the Log Cabin Republican Club, the LGBTQ volunteer arm of the Republican Party. Delegates of all stripes were sporting leis from the event, and it certainly generated a buzz among the party faithful.
It wasn’t all partying and sloganeering, as real work was done too. The Hispanic forum covered by Univision and sponsored by GROW Elect, attracted a large, standing room only crowd. There delegates, and a large contingent of Hispanic high school students, heard from Hispanic office holders and candidates about how their message of opportunity, education and empowerment resonates with Hispanic voters.
Across the hall, a high-tech event showcased 11 startups pitching the newest methods for identifying, contacting, converting and turning out voters. Many of these products were showcased in the recent Republican victory in the congressional special election in Florida. There, the Republican National Committee used volunteer-powered, data-centric voter contact efforts (many developed here in San Mateo County) to turn out voters. These efforts were just the first step, more predictive analytics, micro-targeting and real-time data analysis tools will be rolled out later this year.
The convention highlighted the diversity of the GOP. As RNC Chairman Reince Priebus made clear in his dinner remarks, more than 60 million people voted Republican in 2012. It’s doubtful they agree on many things. Proving the point, California Republican candidates and delegates included pro-lifers and pro-choicers, as well as those pro-marriage equality and those pro-traditional marriage.
For San Mateo County voters, it all may be a bit much to take in. We haven’t had a Republican elected official in a while, so the prospects for Republican victories up and down the state may have some progressive-liberals in denial. As Bob Dylan sang, “And something is happening here, But you don’t know what it is, Do you, Mister Jones?”
It’s no secret that the Republican Party in California fell on hard times while flourishing in the rest of the country. Nevertheless, with bold new leadership, the California GOP is on a mission to “Rebuild Renew Reclaim.” Something is definitely happening here — the party’s rebirth won’t be under the radar for very much longer.
John McDowell is a longtime county resident having first moved to San Carlos in 1963. In the intervening years, he has worked as a political volunteer and staff member in local, state and federal government, including time spent as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush administration.