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The GOP’s California Blues

What explains the ‘reverse tsunami?’

Dec 13, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 13 • By FRED BARNES
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What must Republicans do to recover in California? A lot. Their bench of potential candidates for statewide office is thin. California, Sundheim says, “is the seventh most liberal state in the country.” That doesn’t help. The position of many Republicans on immigration alienates Hispanics. California is a blue state in which Democrats run brutal, lavishly financed, and effective campaigns. And President Obama is still more popular than not here.

Despite all that, Republicans have won in recent memory. In 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor in a recall election and reelected in 2006. Since there was no primary, a destructive fight between conservatives and moderates was avoided. Primaries drain funds. Fiorina emerged from the Senate primary with less than $1 million. Boxer, with $11 million, immediately began attacking Fiorina for sending 30,000 jobs overseas when she ran HP. Fiorina, short on money, was late in responding.

Can a conservative win in California? The answer is yes, but only a conservative like Ronald Reagan with crossover appeal. Fiorina was unabashedly pro-life, pro-offshore oil drilling, pro-gun, and pro-state’s rights. Yet she got more votes than Whitman, who ran to the center.

“I asked a number of professionals whether Carly was too far to the right to win in California,” Sundheim said. “The consensus was that Boxer was so far to the left, that this was a case, if not the case, where a Carly conservative could win.” But not in 2010, it turned out.

It’s the initiatives that provide a ray of hope for Republicans and conservatives. Liberal initiatives that passed didn’t rely on liberal arguments. Abolishing the requirement for a two-thirds majority in the legislature to enact a budget was promoted by attacking the political class in Sacramento, a Tea Party theme. The bid to suspend the Global Warming Act was defeated by demonizing Texas oil interests who oppose reductions in greenhouse gases. And the co-chair of the campaign to keep the act alive was none other than George P. Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state and, at age 90, a figure of eminence among California Republicans.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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