California Republicans still waiting for presidential inspiration

The Sacramento BeeJanuary 30, 2012 

Jon Fleischman, the conservative blogger, was brooding the other day on Facebook, underwhelmed by the presidential candidates he has left to choose from.

It's "pretty alarming to me," the former executive director of the California Republican Party wrote, "how dispassionate, or non-interested I am in this new battle for the Republican nomination between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich."

For like-minded Republicans – a cheerless majority of the party in California, according to a recent poll – a virtual therapy session ensued.

One friend recommended a prescription for Xanax, another a vote for Ron Paul.

Joe Ludlow, who helps run a political action committee in Southern California, said to treat the election like exercise.

"It's not fun for me, I may not like it, it may be painful," Ludlow wrote. "However, failure means a miserable life 20 and 40 years from now. … Four more years of Obama is death."

As in any election, determined and enthusiastic volunteers are still working hard for their choices. Paul, in particular, has a fervent base of support.

But Ludlow, whose preferred candidate is Romney, is among those who aren't exactly inspired as hope fades for any alternative to the current field.

Of California's likely Republican voters, 52 percent say they are unsatisfied with their presidential choices, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released last week. Fleischman, who supported Rick Perry before the Texas governor quit the race, thinks the number is even higher.

"Loyal Republicans," he said, "are not likely to share with a pollster that they are unhappy with their choices."

There are any number of reasons for Republicans to be unhappy with Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, or Gingrich, the former House speaker. Fleischman calls them "the plutocrat" and "the genius." He wishes for a Mitch Daniels or Jeb Bush.

Other Republicans blame the party's sore feelings not on any one candidate, but on the prickliness of the campaign.

"When they start fighting over who hates illegal immigrants more, and beating each other up for capitalism and Bain Corp., just the general negativity, it's going to turn off Republican voters," said Matt David, who was former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's campaign manager before Huntsman dropped out.

The longer it continues, David said, the more it will help Democrats in President Barack Obama's re-election bid.

Even the most dour Republicans don't want that.

"Don't get me wrong," Fleischman said. "Either Gingrich or Romney would be a better solution."

Republicans' dissatisfaction with the party's candidates is more prevalent this year than in January 2008, when, by the same margin – 52 percent – a majority of California Republicans were satisfied with their choices. That year, they included Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson – as well as Romney and Paul.

"There just doesn't seem to be a sense yet that there's somebody that can unify the varying degrees of conservatism that are reflected in Republican politics today," said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California. "Nobody's convinced them that they have the full package."

Democrats feel better about Obama than Republicans feel about their choices, according to the PPIC poll. But even in heavily Democratic California, enthusiasm for Obama has waned.

Four years ago, 77 percent of likely Democratic voters in California were satisfied with their choices for president, a field that included Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, according to the PPIC. But Obama's public approval rating has fallen since he took office, and the percentage of Democrats who are satisfied with him as their choice for president now is down 10 percentage points, to 67 percent.

"Right now nationally you have a circumstance where Republicans are in the worst of their food fight," said Tom Del Beccaro, chairman of the California Republican Party. "This is the worst they are going to look to the electorate … . In about three months, this fun is going to come to an end and then it's going to be the nominee vs. Obama."

The Republican nominee, Del Beccaro suggested, will look better to Republicans in that light. Fleischman said he will be able to "step up and work" for the eventual nominee. But it would be "a lot more healthy," he said, "if I could actually get motivated because I was for something instead of against something."

Fleischman told his Facebook friends that he expects, come summer, that "my need to get Obama the heck out of the White House will trump my current malaise about our Republican offerings, and inspire motivation and activism from this party leader."

He added, "I sure hope so."

To read more, visit www.sacbee.com.

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