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New GOP Chairman Gets Behind Wilson in ’94 : Politics: Tirso del Junco vows to help reelect the governor and signals that he will challenge attacks by party’s conservatives.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Although he is a longtime leader of the conservative faction that has spent two years waging intraparty warfare with Gov. Pete Wilson, the new Republican state chairman vowed Saturday to do everything he can to reelect “our man” Wilson in 1994.

Tirso del Junco, a Los Angeles surgeon, added that he will oppose any attempt by the party’s conservative and Christian right to challenge Wilson’s renomination in the June, 1994, Republican primary.

Lest there be any doubt about that, Del Junco cracked: “Read my lips.”

Del Junco, 67, was joined by the new GOP national chairman, Haley Barbour, in pronouncing a 1990s version of the GOP’s “11th Commandment” in the wake of the party’s 1992 electoral disaster: Republicans shall not tear themselves apart over emotional social issues such as abortion.

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Appearing at the post-election state Republican convention, Del Junco and Barbour sought to rally the party behind its beleaguered governor, whose popularity in the polls has plummeted.

Wilson joined the call for unity with an attempt to take the focus off the losses to Democrats last fall and by citing GOP legislative and electoral victories of the past two years.

“We know that when we’re united, Republican ideas and ideals will prevail,” Wilson said in remarks prepared for his address to a Saturday night convention banquet.

He predicted victories for the full slate of state offices up in 1994, including those held by state Treasurer Kathleen Brown and Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, both potential Democratic candidates for his governorship.

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“And oh, by the way, John and Kathleen,” Wilson added. “I have a message for you: Go ahead, make my day.”

The major business this weekend was to elect party officers and to re-energize the GOP after losing California to Democrat Bill Clinton in November along with two U.S. Senate seats and a spate of U.S. House and state legislative positions that Republicans had counted on winning.

There was no spot on the official agenda for debating party positions. Still, the battle over the GOP stand on abortion continued to dominate hallway conversations.

Abortion and support for Wilson were issues in the major contested election today for the party vice chairmanship. Wilson-aligned moderates still are smarting over conservatives’ success in September in putting an anti-abortion plank into the state party platform for the first time.

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In back-to-back news conferences, Del Junco and Barbour said such battles are self-destructive. The party can make a comeback only if it concentrates on the unifying themes of the economy and opposition to President Clinton’s spending plans, they said.

While noting that he is a Roman Catholic who is opposed to abortion, Del Junco insisted that the party will be equally open to abortion rights and anti-abortion partisans, adding: “There has to be a place in this party for all.”

Barbour put it more bluntly: “Anyone who thinks abortion should be a threshold issue ought to have their heads examined.”

And, in response to a question, Barbour was sharply critical of the 1992 Bush-Quayle campaign’s decision to virtually concede California to Clinton.

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Barbour called the strategy “the height of stupidity” that did “huge damage” to GOP candidates all the way down the California ticket.

The California Republican Party today resembles the GOP in the mid-1960s when the Rockefeller and Goldwater wings were at war, and Democrats had carried the state for a presidential ticket.

As the nominee for governor in 1966, Ronald Reagan took command of the party and imposed unity under his conservative banner with the device of the so-called 11th Commandment, promulgated by then-state GOP Chairman Gaylord Parkinson: “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”

The commandment rarely has been uttered in recent years and conservatives have come to dominate the official party structure. They held their fire and backed Wilson in 1990 because they had no alternative. The bloodletting began almost the day Wilson took office over a wide range of issues symbolized by abortion.

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The flames were fanned by Wilson’s open support for moderates over conservatives in GOP primaries--something Reagan never did--and a major tax increase he signed into law in 1991.

Del Junco argued that abortion may be a critical issue to delegates cloistered in the emotional caldron of the convention hall, but not to the 4.5-million registered California Republicans who decide elections.

“We must reach out to all Republicans,” he said.

In fact, Wilson’s support for choice on abortion may have been critical to his 1990 election as governor because it virtually immunized him from attack on the issue. Otherwise, abortion might have dominated the campaign and allowed Democrat Dianne Feinstein to pick up enough votes from abortion-rights Republicans to have won.

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Conservatives talked openly at this convention about mounting a challenge to Wilson in the 1994 primary. Angela (Bay) Buchanan, sister of conservative columnist and commentator Pat Buchanan, is most often mentioned as a challenger. But she has given no indication that she will run.


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