California GOP chair rebuilding the party from scratch

By |
Politics,Republican Party,California,David M. Drucker,Campaigns,PennAve

BOSTON -- How low had California Republicans sunk?

When Jim Brulte was installed as state GOP chairman in March, he took control of a party so broke it couldn't afford to maintain its own headquarters, state party offices named for iconic president and two-time California governor Ronald Reagan.

"It needed a new roof, it needs new carpet ... it's just a total state of disrepair, Brulte told the Washington Examiner during the Republican National Committee's summer meeting here.

The leaky roof is the least of the challenges Republicans face in California, where Democrats have long held a lock on the state's 55 electoral votes -- and will for the foreseeable future. Brulte feels like he's rebuilding from scratch.

This is the second time Brulte, 57, a former minority leader in the state senate, helped rebuild California's Republican Party. But this time it will be even harder, he said, because it's been three long election cycles since a Republican won a statewide office. Brulte's six-year rebuilding plan is modest and the task daunting: making the party relevant again.

Washington Examiner: What are your goals?

Jim Brulte: We've established three goals. One is helping maintain the congressional majority. ... Our second goal is to eliminate the Democratic super majorities in one or both houses of the legislature. For the first time since the 1800s, Democrats have super majorities in both houses. ... Our third goal is to elect Republicans at the local level.

Some people say you have to build a party from the top down and so you have to focus on statewide elections. And by the way, they've tried that. And, in two of the last three elections, Democrats have won every statewide office. Our goal is to do it a little differently. We're going to try and build from the bottom up.

Examiner: How were Republicans recently able to win a state senate seat in a district specifically drawn to elect a Democrat?

Brulte: It starts with an unbelievably good candidate [Andy Vidak]. I have been saying for over a decade in California -- and this has important implications for the national party. In a neighborhood election, the candidate who most looks like, sounds like, has the shared values and the shared experiences of the majority of the people in the neighborhood, tends to win. And, the neighborhoods of California have changed, and the neighborhoods of America are changing. So, recruiting the right candidate is step No. 1 in a successful election strategy.

Examiner: How can Republicans make inroads in a state as liberal as California?

Brulte: Candidates who are successful are candidates who have practical solutions to real problems that confront the people whose vote they're asking for. ... I don't believe parties should be a debating society, we ought to be about the business of electing Republicans, and it's too easy to default into that mode. I've been critical of some of the party leaders in California because they were really good at doing media interviews, but they didn't walk precincts, and they didn't raise money and they didn't recruit volunteers.

Examiner: How does the new rebuilding effort compare to the one a decade ago?

Brulte: It was easier then ... If you're a Republican donor or volunteer who had been involved for just the last three election cycles, you don't know what success is because we haven't had one. We now have one; we've shown that if we apply our resources and are prudent, we can win a [state] senate seat, and we did that and we're very happy about it. But the task is much more difficult today.

View article comments Leave a comment

David M. Drucker

Senior Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner