How conservative was the crowd at the state GOP convention this weekend?
Well, consider this. Meg Whitman called Steve Poizner “the only liberal” in the Republican primary for governor. That’s the same Poizner who spent the weekend complaining that the federal government won’t let him kick the children of illegal immigrants out of school and bar them from hospital emergency rooms.
If there were any moderates hanging around the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara this weekend, they were probably waiting for an opening in the witness protection program.
The result was a conservative version of “Can You Top This?” as played by the candidates for governor and U.S. Senate.
Poizner says he’ll cut the capital gains tax by 50 percent. Whitman pledges to eliminate it.
Poizner vows to slash the power of public employee unions. Whitman agrees, but says she also fire 40,000 state workers.
Senate candidate Carly Fiorina argues that she can squeeze hundreds of millions in waste out of every federal program, while Tom Campbell says he’s got a plan that would cut the nation’s budget deficit by $676 billion this year.
Everyone wanted to talk about how he or she will slash spending, create tons of good-paying jobs, bring business back to California and, by the way, convince a strongly Democratic state to back Republicans for two of the state’s top political jobs.
Fiorina, in a rousing speech Saturday afternoon, solved that problem by virtually calling on voters to grab their torches and pitchforks and storm the ramparts of Congress.
“The great sleeping giant of American democracy is rising up against a national capital that talks, but will not listen,” she said. “Conservatives, independents, moderates, Republicans, Democrats Tea Partiers, Libertarians – all of us now belong to one party: the Had Enough Party.”
Now telling a story about how terrible things are was a lot easier for the Senate candidates, since they could just blame everything on Barbara Boxer. Fiorina’s campaign even took time to create the equivalent of “Demon Sheep: The Sequel,” this one featuring the Democratic incumbent as a talking blimp (insert gasbag jokes here).
When you’re talking about the need to fix a fiscal disaster in California, though, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the governor for the past six-plus years has been Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But ignore it they did, proving again that almost anything is possible in politics. Schwarzenegger, who as usual found someplace else he had to be during the three days of the GOP convention, was barely mentioned by his party’s leaders.
There was a lot of stuff that wasn’t mentioned at the convention, most of it involving subjects the candidates decided weren’t appropriate for the audience.
About the only mention of the environment, for example, was Fiorina’s comment that “we have to protect our environment,” but only if it doesn’t threaten any jobs. And the Delta smelt took a beating whenever the talk turned to water.
No one listening to the speeches would ever have known that Whitman, Campbell and Poizner are all pro-choice, although Whitman and Poizner got into a tiff about whether Poizner was too pro-choice.
And then there’s the uncomfortable fact that Whitman, Campbell, Poizner and Fiorina are all from the Bay Area and all have histories that have put them on the moderate end of the GOP spectrum.
(Senate hopeful Chuck DeVore gets a pass here. Not only is the assemblyman from Irvine, but no one has ever accused him of being a moderate).
Now you’d think that being able to move toward the center might be a good thing for a Republican in a general election, the one where Democrats get to vote too. But that’s not the sort of thing anyone really wanted to suggest to this weekend’s convention delegates.
Poizner didn’t mind being called a moderate back in 2004, when he ran unsuccessfully for Assembly in a strongly Democratic district in the Bay Area. But he sees it differently now.
“I was a conservative back then and I’m a passionate conservative now,” he said, to the bemusement of reporters who actually covered that race.
While Whitman and Fiorina suggested they’d waltz to victory because voters (heart) job-creating business executives, Campbell did argue Saturday night that he has a history of “running and winning in heavily Democrat districts with strong support from independent voters. I was the last Republican to represent a district entirely inside the Bay Area.”
Ah, Tom, that’s because you were seen as a moderate. And that’s something the other GOP hopefuls might want to remember before they chop all their ties to the majority of California voters who live in that wide political valley between the progressive left and the hard-core right.
John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.