California Republicans spent much of their weekend convention soul-searching over the battered party's future and debating a plan of attack for 2010, when they hope to capitalize on anti-tax protests and growing national conservative anger over President Barack Obama's health care proposals.
Most of the attention during their three-day convention at a resort near Palm Springs was on the three GOP gubernatorial candidates, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former five-term congressman Tom Campbell.
They sought to contrast their Republican credentials with somber messages that contrasted with the flashier tenure of the man they're hoping to succeed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose term ends in 2011.
The moderate GOP governor has never been well-liked among the party stalwarts who dominate such conventions. Schwarzenegger did little to repair that relationship during a brief address Friday night, particularly when he mentioned the landmark global warming law he signed in 2006.
Too costly for businesses
Many Republicans oppose the law to curb greenhouse gas emissions because they say it will be too costly for businesses.
In a jab against Schwarzenegger and other moderates, a punchy Poizner on Saturday night urged delegates not to let outsiders sway the direction of the party.
"Don't let people come in here and tell you that we need to rebrand the Republican party. Don't let anyone come in here and tell you we need to reposition the Republican party. When people come in here and tell you we need to move the Republican party to the center, that is wrong," he said to loud cheers.
Campbell and Whitman have both proposed massive spending cuts to bring California's budget in line, although Whitman has so far declined to say where she would find the $15 billion in cuts she proposed. Poizner is pushing a proposal to lower nearly all the state's taxes, but has been unable to say how much that would cost the state or how much he hopes to generate through the increased growth he says that would spur.
Meanwhile, the Republican race to challenge liberal stalwart Barbara Boxer for her U.S. Senate seat next year also gained momentum this weekend after Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, announced she is exploring a run.
Her entrance in the contest pits a socially conservative state lawmaker, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, against a former CEO whose views are barely known to GOP voters in the state. DeVore was scheduled to address delegates Sunday. Fiorina, who is battling breast cancer, declined to attend this weekend's gathering because she is in the final stages of treatment, her campaign said.
Trying to redirect attention
Whitman, a billionaire and fellow Silicon Valley executive, gave the party $250,000 for voter registration efforts before the convention. She spent much of her weekend trying to redirect attention from her spotty voting record.
Her speech Saturday did not touch on questions that have surrounded the campaign for days, after The Sacramento Bee reported there was no evidence she had ever registered to vote before 2002 and she had not registered as a Republican until 2007.
Whitman refused to answer repeated questions from reporters about her voting record, including why she didn't vote and when she first registered as a Republican.
"I did not vote. I should've voted. It is inexcusable," she said. "I've said what I'm going to say about it."