Assemblyman Tim Donnelly saw broad support at the California Republican convention. (Scott Detrow/KQED)
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly saw broad support at the California Republican convention. (Scott Detrow/KQED)

San Diego’s new mayor, Kevin Faulconer, was everyone’s favorite man at the Republican convention this weekend.

Faulconer prevailed in last month’s special election to replace disgraced ex-mayor Bob Filner. That’s despite the fact Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in San Diego by 14 percentage points. And if you didn’t know that fact heading into the three-day event in Burlingame, Republican leaders did their best to make sure those stats were drilled into your head by the time you left.

The San Diego win is the latest sign that California Republicans may be regaining their pulse. Addressing the convention on Friday night, Faulconer told delegates, “Not only winning but winning big — I think it sent a great message. That we have the formula.”

“Not only does it work in San Diego,” he said, “but ladies and gentlemen, it will work. That message of inclusion, it will work in cities and counties across this great state of California.”

Faulconer’s formula for Republican success is simple: Focus on economic issues, with some good-government reforms thrown in, too, and then bring that message to minority communities the party has typically ignored.

Breaking the Supermajority

Republicans are confident that approach will help them increase their contingents in the Assembly and Senate from the current one-third level That would end the Democrats’ ability to raise taxes and put constitutional amendments on the ballot without a single Republican vote.

A big part of that effort is a relatively new program called California Trailblazers, which, as the organization’s CEO Jessica Patterson put it, recruited a slate of candidates that “represents … what California looks like.” Republicans touted these new recruits, among them several Asian and Latino faces, at a Friday event.

“The first thing that we did when we started this cycle out, was we wanted to make sure we were finding candidates that represent their communities and match their districts and could win races,” Patterson said.

The program doesn’t just find candidates. It trains them, too. “Everything from how to put together a political plan to a fundraising plan. Your overall communications strategy. How to file for office,” she said.

The GOP needs to gain two Assembly seats and one Senate seat to break the Democrats’ two-thirds hold. (Though Democrats have already temporarily lost their supermajority in the Senate, with Sens. Ron Calderon and Rod Wright on paid leave to deal with legal problems.)

Kashkari vs. Donnelly

Republican leaders wanted to keep the focus on their modest goals this weekend. That’s understandable, given the substantial hurdles the party is still facing on the state level. Republicans may not even field a candidate in several statewide races this fall. And with Gov. Jerry Brown boasting 60 percent approval ratings and a massive campaign war chest, the GOP would need a series of small miracles to begin to compete in the gubernatorial race.

But nevertheless, there is a campaign for governor this year, and the party’s two leading candidates spent the weekend working hard.

Former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari speaks to campaign volunteers. (Scott Detrow)
Former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari speaks to campaign volunteers. (Scott Detrow)

Former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari framed himself as the man to rebuild the state’s Republican Party. “I want to make it the young party, the party of ideas. The party of hard work,” he told a flock of campaign volunteers during a Saturday afternoon event.  “The diverse party. Everyone is welcome.”

Kashkari has worked hard to brand himself as the young, cool candidate in the race. In contrast to the 75-year-old Brown and the conservative Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, Kashkari is the guy who uses emoji icons in his tweets and pauses speeches to post Instagram pictures. He threw a big party Saturday night, and made sure to tell his campaign volunteers that the band would be playing Michael Jackson music.

But at a convention full of conservative activists, many people didn’t want to rebuild or rebrand the Republican Party. It was Donnelly, not Kashkari, who won the biggest applause of the weekend. The Tea Party favorite heard loud cheers when he called Brown a “Marxist-progressive parading as a Democrat, “ railed against gun control and decried a law signed last year allowing transgender students to use the facilities of their choice.

Donnelly dismissed Kashkari as just the latest in a long line of watered-down Republican candidates.

“All right, let’s look at the pathway that got us where we are as a party: to less than a third of the electorate,” he told reporters. “We put up moderate billionaires who are not effective campaigners and don’t connect with people’s hearts and minds. They didn’t take the tough stands. The controversial stands.”

Kashkari has raised hundreds of thousands more dollars than Donnelly and has the backing of most of the party’s establishment. That doesn’t bother Donnelly.

“I will have the evangelicals. I will have people who identify them as Tea Party,” he said.  “I will have people who identify themselves as libertarian.”

Neither candidate has begun running television ads yet, with 11 weeks to go before the primary.


Scott Detrow

Sacramento bureau chief Scott Detrow covers state government, politics and policy for KQED News and its statewide news program, The California Report.

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