Politics & Government

Whitman, unlike Schwarzenegger, will lead California GOP, activists say

SAN DIEGO — For seven years now, Republican activists believe, the California Republican Party has had to fend largely for itself as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to do much for its candidates.

That neglect has taken its toll on the party, which hit a low point in the 2008 elections when President Barack Obama carried California by a whopping 24 percentage points and GOP candidates failed to make a dent in the Democrats' majority in the Legislature.

Besides Schwarzenegger, Republicans won only one statewide office four years ago. Then-Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria said he felt the governor had left him "holding the bag" after Schwarzenegger stayed on the sidelines in the primary race for state controller.

As the state party concluded its convention Sunday, however, Republican activists said the GOP was leaderless no more.

State Republicans have found an enthusiastic — and wealthy — new general in gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.

Party leaders say Whitman has embraced her new role since winning the party's nomination in June by raising money for down-ticket statewide candidates and exerting her control over the party's agenda.

That new influence was clear during this weekend's convention, where she met with party power brokers Friday and led a boisterous dinner rally that night featuring half of the statewide Republican ticket.

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