Schwarzenegger urges GOP to claim middle

/ Source: The Associated Press

In a year when Republican presidential candidates have aggressively courted the GOP right, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned that the party faces a perilous future if it continues to surrender the political center.

“Our party has lost the middle and we will not regain true political power in California until we get it back,” the celebrity governor told hundreds of Republicans at a state party convention Friday.

“The California Republican Party should be a right-of-center party that occupies the broad middle of California. That is a lush, green, abandoned political space,” he said. “It can be ours.”

The state party’s percentage of voter registration has been shrinking, and to reverse it the party must tackle issues with broad public appeal, like climate change and building highways, railroads and tunnels, he said. In an apparent reference to abortion and other social issues that often divide the party, he said members must be accepting of those with other views while not abandoning “who we are.”

He said he wanted the party to be welcoming to independents — the fastest growing voter group in California. He said the party should open up its February presidential primary to independent voters — an issue that could come up during the convention.

In a year when many polls show Democrats holding an advantage heading into 2008, it was clear the governor intended his message to have national relevance.

Schwarzenegger recently proposed distilling the state GOP platform — the party’s statement of core values — into as little as a single page focusing on lowering taxes, limiting the size of government and building a strong national defense. That proposal, in a letter to party members, made no mention of abortion, gay marriage or other social issues.