SANTA CLARA – As hundreds of Republicans wrapped up their state party's convention Sunday optimistic about victory in November, one stubborn question lingered over the weekend's festivities: How to rebuild the party after a string of crushing election defeats?
The party delegates who hobnobbed and partied here clearly hoped that voter dissatisfaction with the economy and political gridlock would translate into Republican victories both in California and nationwide.
"Fellow Republicans, this is our year," former state party chairman Shawn Steel told the convention Sunday. "Let's embrace it, let's celebrate it."
Yet candidate after candidate, both conservative and moderate, also scolded Republican leaders for straying from the party's core fiscal values. Without change, they warned, Republicans could fall back to the lows of 2008, when they lost control of the White House and remained a minority in Congress and the state Legislature.
How the party should change, however, and build on recent victories in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey was a subject of hot debate.
Conservatives such as U.S. Senate candidate Chuck DeVore of Irvine, and supporters of the tea party activist movement, slammed the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations for increasing public spending and expanding the size of government.
"What we have in 2010 is what I believe is a great opportunity and a danger for us Republicans," DeVore said. "We have to look at our failures in the last few election cycles and look at why it was we lost the trust of the American people."
Moderate Republicans warned that the party had drifted too far to the right and alienated ethnic groups needed to win elections — especially in California, where Republicans make up less than 31 percent of registered voters.
That message was delivered most potently by state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria, who told the convention that Republicans needed to communicate their message of fiscal prudence and economic self-determination to Latinos, who he said share Republican stands on many issues. Instead, Maldonado lamented, gubernatorial candidates Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman unveiled harder stands on illegal immigrants during the convention, which could alienate Latino voters.
"If we don't tell the fastest-growing population what our values are, I can guarantee you that the other party will, and we're not going to like what they tell them about us," Maldonado said.
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