California Republicans are convening. What to know as the state GOP tries to flip its fortunes

98-04-21 -- Nancy and Ronald Reagan on ranch in 1996. -- PHOTOGRAPHER: Reuters FILE-- President Reagan and his wife Nancy take a ride at their ranch, Rancho del Cielo, in Santa Barbara, Calif., in this 1982 file photo. Since announcing in 1994 that the former president, now 87, was battling Alzheimer's disease, the Reagans have made their Bel-Air home their primary residence, leaving the ranch vacant. A group of young Republicans is buying the mountaintop ranch for use as a training center for future GOP leaders. (AP Photo/File)
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The Republican Party has a storied history in California. The launching pad for Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, the state remains home to many of the party’s wealthiest donors as well as nearly 5.3 million registered GOP voters (more than the population of 28 states). But the party has been in decline for many years, both in membership and ballot box success.

As California Republicans prepare to gather for their convention in Anaheim, here’s a look at the GOP, its upcoming electoral prospects and the stakes this weekend:

What's the state of the GOP in California?

By the numbers, it’s dire.

Democrats had a nearly 23-percentage point voter registration edge over Republicans as of March. Voters who express no party preference have nearly caught up with the GOP in voter registration.

The Republican Party last elected statewide candidates in 2006 (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner). It currently holds less than a quarter of state legislative seats and less than a fifth of the state’s congressional delegation. Last year’s effort to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, which drew great enthusiasm among conservatives because enough voters signed petitions to qualify it for the ballot, failed by nearly 24 points.

Do conservative voters have any reasons for hope?

Despite its overwhelmingly Democratic tilt, the state is home to many conservatives. Former President Trump received more than 6 million votes in California in 2020 — the most of any state.

Republicans are hopeful because the GOP is widely expected to retake control of Congress due to President Biden’s low approval ratings, rising inflation and the historic trend that the party that controls the White House typically loses seats in the first midterm election during its tenure.

That means that Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy, the current House GOP leader and a devoted Trump ally, has a strong shot of becoming the next speaker of the House — second in line for the presidency after the vice president. He would also take the speaker’s gavel from San Francisco Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is reviled among conservatives.

However, his prospects may have dimmed in the aftermath of audio released Thursday night that shows that four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the nation's Capitol, McCarthy told top Republican House leaders that he planned to call President Trump.

"The only discussion I would have with him is I think [an impeachment resolution] would pass and it would be my recommendation you should resign," McCarthy says in the audio recording provided to MSNBC by the New York Times reporters who wrote a book that contains those details. "I mean that would be my take, but I don't think he would take it. But I don't know."

The New York Times first reported the remark Thursday; McCarthy issued a statement saying the reporting was "totally false."

McCarthy is scheduled to address delegates on Saturday.

Can the GOP gain congressional seats in California?

Absolutely. Democrats have already booked millions of dollars of television air time on California congressional races in the fall, and Republicans are expected to follow suit.

Though it’s unclear whether these races will determine which party controls the House of Representatives, they will certainly determine the margin.

Republicans have prioritized defending the seats of Reps. Mike Garcia in northern Los Angeles County and David Valadao in the Central Valley — two of the most endangered GOP incumbents in the nation after the once-every-decade redrawing of district lines following the U.S. census. Additionally, they are trying to protect Orange County Rep. Michelle Steel, who is running in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, as well as Reps. Young Kim in Orange County and Ken Calvert in Riverside County.

The GOP is on offense in the redrawn congressional districts represented by Democratic Reps. Katie Porter in Orange County; Mike Levin, whose district straddles the border of Orange and San Diego counties; and Josh Harder in the Central Valley.

What about the party’s statewide prospects this year?


While 13 Republicans are challenging Newsom in his reelection bid, none are well known. Four are having receptions at the convention, including state Sen. Brian Dahle and businessman Anthony Trimino, who had a skywriter spell out “Unmask Our Kids” over the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium earlier this year.

The most prominent Republicans who ran to replace Newsom in last year’s recall — talk-radio host Larry Elder, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley and businessman and 2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox — are sitting out the 2022 gubernatorial election. None is scheduled to appear at the convention, which opens Friday night.

The candidates running for other statewide offices, such as U.S. Senate, attorney general and treasurer, have little campaign cash and even less name identification among California voters. The sole exception may be state controller hopeful Lanhee Chen, an academic and GOP policy expert who is a big name in national political and donor circles, but is little known among the state’s voters.

What are some of the key events at this weekend’s gathering?

The party's last convention, shortly after the failed recall, was grim.

This year's is expected to be more celebratory, with candidates' parties such as Steel's chocolate and cigars reception. There will also be panels on issues such as education reform and courting minority and LGBTQ voters. Vendors will hawk jewelry and clothing featuring rhinestone elephants.

McCarthy's speech was anticipated to be a draw for delegates even before the Trump resignation audio surfaced. The former state lawmaker had been expected to discuss the Biden administration's record, inflation the midterm election and immigration.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the sole Black Republican member of the U.S. Senate, will make an appearance Friday night. Scott is viewed as a rising star and potential presidential candidate or vice presidential pick.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.