George Skelton: GOP without a quality candidate for governor

February 26, 2013 

SACRAMENTO -- The Republican Party has become so pathetic in California that it can't even find a candidate to run for governor next year. Correct that. It isn't even looking. Wouldn't know where to begin.

The party has little to offer. Certainly not a brand name, not in a state where the GOP steadily has been losing market share. Definitely not money; the party's deep in debt.

The Republican state convention is next weekend in Sacramento. Normally, there would be a parade of gubernatorial wannabes fighting for visibility. Not this time.

The big event in this year's convention will be the election of a former Republican legislator, Jim Brulte, as the state chairman. He wants to rebuild the party from the ground up. That includes recruiting local candidates and building a farm system for major office. But no one can name a Republican with a snowball's chance of beating Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown next year.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's name always comes up. But everyone concedes that's fantasy. She's committed to education reform, a Brown vulnerability. She loves her life in academia at Stanford, however, and shuns smelly state politics.

U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the Republican whip, also comes up. As a former Assembly GOP leader, he understands Sacramento and perhaps could make it work. But he's not going to surrender his No. 3 party leadership post in Congress.

A big red flag for any Republican is Brown's remarkable strength. A Field Poll last week showed his approval rating among voters has risen to an eye-popping 57 percent. Moreover, 61 percent said he "can be trusted to do what is right." And 56 percent thought he "deserves credit for turning around the state's finances." Pointing to some weakness, though, 57 percent said Brown "advocates too many big-government projects) (bullet train). And 47 percent said he "favors organized labor" (public pensions).

So there are some sores for opponents to peck at. And he will be 76.

Brown probably can't be bounced. So forget about trying to find a Republican winner; just settle for a candidate who can pass the laugh test.

Ideally, the candidate would be someone relatively young who runs on the high road and finishes in position to wage a successful encore race when Brown gets booted by term limits in 2018. Being a Latino could be a plus, attracting voters from a growing ethnic group that perceives the GOP as immigrant bashers.

But who? We don't need electability, just credibility.

That excludes Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of San Bernardino County. He's a former Minuteman who rails against illegal immigration and was put on probation for trying to bring a loaded gun onto a plane.

"He'd be a really horrible candidate, worse than no candidate," says Republican analyst Tony Quinn.

One credible candidate, young and Latino, is Abel Maldonado, 45, of Santa Maria, a former mayor, legislator and lieutenant governor. Maldonado is a moderate who had the courage to vote in the state Senate for a tax increase, angering GOP activists. He was appointed lieutenant governor by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, then lost to Gavin Newsom in 2010. In November, he lost a congressional race to Democratic Rep. Lois Capps. He likely would run with a little encouragement. But he would need to answer questions about a $4 million family tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service.

Then there's former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, 62. He was a police chief and has a saleable public record. But he insists he's retired from politics.

Three other names out there: San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos, 55, (more likely an attorney general contender); Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, 40, (she's fighting to avoid city bankruptcy); and Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, 57, (a fiscal watchdog).

"What the heck good is a party if it doesn't have a candidate?" Quinn asks. "You can't resurrect a party without a candidate at the top of the ticket arguing serious issues and motivating people to vote."


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