Factions Preparing to Duel for Control of State GOP's Soul : Politics: Conservative and moderate wings of the party will try to assert themselves as Republicans hold their annual convention in Sacramento.


The frequently strained ties between moderate and conservative Republicans in California--uncertain even in the honeymoon following Pete Wilson's victory in the governor's race--will be tested anew this weekend as the state GOP gathers in Sacramento for its annual convention.

Underneath the back-slapping and partisan exhortations that mark every political convention, both ideological camps will be flexing for control in what promises to be a preview of a fractious 1992 election season.

In a week that opened with conservative William Dannemeyer's decision to challenge moderate John Seymour for Seymour's U.S. Senate seat, moderates are openly worried that convention squabbling will undermine efforts to broaden the party's reach to Democrats and independents.

Conservatives, who are likely to dominate the convention, which begins today, have among their members some who are angling for renewed battles over taxes, social mores and the definitions of conservatism.

In between speeches by Seymour and Wilson--who despite his electoral success is long distrusted by party conservatives--the delegates will consider changes in their bylaws that are meant to serve as a poke in the ribs to moderates.

One, submitted by Dannemeyer, would put the party on record as supporting "the sanctity of life" and a "heterosexual ethic," among other things. Another would seek to punish Republican office-seekers who refuse to take a no-new-taxes pledge.

Both are thinly veiled jabs at Seymour and Wilson, who support abortion rights and have refused to rule out tax increases.

Outgoing party Chairman Frank Visco said he will encourage Republicans to follow a pragmatic and progressive course "and not regress to single-issue politics."

"My message obviously would be let's not go back and undo the many positive things," he said.

Conservatives frequently have more sway at Republican conventions in off-election years, when their presence is not diluted by moderates who tend to flow in and out of the party with the electoral cycle. As a result, some figure conflict between activists and moderate office-holders this weekend is preordained.

Still, politicians see advantages to such mass gatherings.

For Seymour, appointed to the Senate last month to fill the seat vacated by Wilson, the convention will be his first opportunity to court en masse party activists who by ideology are not inclined to be friendly. And it is a chance to directly contrast his more moderate views with those of Dannemeyer.

"There will be two differing versions from two different individuals on what they think are the fundamental issues to the party and what their vision of the party is," said H. D. Palmer, a spokesman for the senator.

"People on the street . . . are looking at things like economic opportunity, the opportunity for kids to have a quality education, to have safe streets so you can raise your family with some degree of safety. . . .

"It's a forward-looking, broad-ranging view in contrast, it is fair to say, with a more narrowly focused, exclusionary agenda you'll see from Dannemeyer," he added.

Some Republicans see the weekend as potentially providing Seymour the kind of opportunity seized by Dianne Feinstein at last year's Democratic state convention.

There, she pronounced her support for the death penalty, earning angry boos from the party regulars, who polls showed to be far more liberal than Democratic voters statewide. But the pronouncement and the booing--which was captured on film and served up in Feinstein's campaign commercials--later helped her among the broader audience of voters.

Similarly, some Republicans suggest that Seymour, if he is able to talk down conservative critics at the convention, could begin to frame his image to voters statewide.

"It presents him with an opportunity to be sane," said one prominent Republican, who refused to speak for attribution.

Dannemeyer disagrees wholeheartedly, contending that the conservative agenda he will put forth this weekend will hold the party in good stead among voters.

The 12-year congressman said his resolution regarding abortion and heterosexual activity served as a "needed affirmation of the fact that Republicans believe that the Judeo-Christian ethic is the foundation of our civilization."

"The positions that I affirm in politics in California reflect the vast majority of Republican voters and the large percentage of Democratic voters as well," he said in an interview from Washington.

Wilson also will be in the spotlight this weekend and plans to put forward the same message of party unity that he used to good advantage during last year's gubernatorial election. Now, as then, Wilson will argue that Republicans need to hang together to ensure victory in the 1992 struggle over reapportionment.

Wilson aides put a rosy cast on the governor's plans for the weekend and on the prospects for dissent.

"Of course there are going to be occasional differences of opinion over issues," said Otto Bos, Wilson's communications director. "We maintain and insist that there's got to be room for differences--but we also have a lot of common ground."

Overshadowed by ideological discussions will be the convention's official business, which will include the election of incoming party chairman Jim Dignan, a Modesto businessman, who is running without competition. Balloting also will determine whether Tirso del Junco or Ed Reinecke, both former chairmen, will be vice chair and next in line to lead the party.

Wilson endorsed Del Junco--after a move, spurned by conservatives, to encourage Long Beach businessman Ron Cedillos to run for the office.

Delegates also will consider allowing party chairs to serve up to eight years in office, a change that GOP officials believe might boost the California party's influence nationally. Currently, California party chairs can serve only two years, unlike their counterparts in other states. Because of the rule, proponents of the change argue, California's Republicans suffer from a continuing lack of seniority at gatherings of national political leaders.

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