McClintock Tries to Rally GOP Support for Governor

California's best-known conservative, Sen. Tom McClintock, tried to unite its fractured Republican Party behind Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's reelection on Saturday, urging GOP loyalists to set aside qualms about his vast spending plans and envision the fiscal wreckage a Democrat could inflict on the state.

Joining Schwarzenegger's drive to crush a conservative rebellion, the Thousand Oaks lawmaker reminded delegates at the state Republican convention that both Democrats seeking to replace the governor have backed not just higher taxes but also driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

McClintock's lunch speech to 500 delegates marked the party's most aggressive attack yet on the Democrats, state Controller Steve Westly and Treasurer Phil Angelides. He called Westly "the emptiest suit I have ever encountered in 25 years in politics" and branded Angelides a "self-anointed elitist who thinks that, darn it, he's just so good at running his own life, he's entitled to run everybody else's."

"What's greater, the differences among us as Republicans, or the differences between us and the Democrats?" asked McClintock, who gained widespread praise in 2003 for his ideologically consistent, if unsuccessful, bid for governor in the recall election won by Schwarzenegger.

But the split among Republicans remained on bright display, despite Schwarzenegger's attempt in a Friday night dinner speech to rally the party behind his $222-billion plan to build highways, schools, prisons and other projects.

Two former state Republican chairmen on Saturday revived their effort to yank the GOP endorsement of Schwarzenegger, only to be thwarted by a party committee controlled by the governor's allies. The former party leaders and others said they were fed up with the governor straying from his party by naming a Democrat as his chief of staff, appointing 50 Democratic judges, calling for a higher minimum wage and proposing $68 billion in debt for his construction program.

"This governor got a free pass because of the recall and because of the euphoria of having a Republican in office, but that party is over," said Michael Schroeder, one of the former party chairmen.

Frustrations were also manifested in more mischievous ways. Some urinals at the convention hotel were decorated with black-and-white campaign buttons reading: "Where's he taking us? Why are we following?"

Yet many acknowledged that there was no realistic alternative to Schwarzenegger for conservatives.

"I've seen a few things that kind of wrinkled my shorts a bit," said John Gould, a West Sacramento candidate for state Assembly. But in the end, "the key here is unity" for Republicans, he said.

Schwarzenegger allies also took heat for breaking with conservative orthodoxy. A noisy band of young supporters of state controller candidate Tony Strickland roamed the halls chanting against his GOP primary rival, state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria, for sponsoring Schwarzenegger's bill to hike the minimum wage.

A party committee rejected resolutions against the minimum-wage hike, Schwarzenegger's budget and his plans to borrow billions of dollars for his proposals, but each item will be up for debate again this morning on the convention floor.

The committee passed a resolution calling on Schwarzenegger to name more Republican judges. Of the 135 Superior Court judges Schwarzenegger has appointed, 50 are Democrats and 17 are independents. Steve Baric, chairman of the Republican Lawyers Assn., who sponsored the resolution, said he did it with a "heavy heart."

"I want to see this party unified," he said, adding: "But I don't think that means we cannot raise our voice and speak."

The rancor among Republicans over Schwarzenegger's direction comes amid a raft of other difficulties for the state party. The unpopularity of President Bush and the Republican Congress has created a poor national political climate for the GOP, deepening its trouble in a state that already tilts heavily toward Democrats. Organized labor is planning to resume its aggressive advertising against Schwarzenegger, whose special election agenda last year enraged public-employee unions.

Republicans have also failed to recruit a high-profile candidate for the other major contest on California's November ballot, the race for the U.S. Senate seat of Democrat Dianne Feinstein. The only Republican running is former state Sen. Dick Mountjoy, a leader of the party's conservative wing who is seen by strategists in both parties as posing no threat to the popular incumbent. Party leaders gave him no visible role at the convention. "I saw him sitting on a table out there," one party operative said.

The party also appears to be making little progress in its effort to diversify its field of candidates; none of its major contenders for statewide office this year are women, and the GOP establishment is backing only white men. Strategists say the party's brightest prospects include Schwarzenegger and Secretary of State Bruce McPherson for reelection; McClintock, who is running for lieutenant governor; and Steve Poizner, a Silicon Valley businessman who is a candidate for insurance commissioner.

But the party's immediate task is to unify behind Schwarzenegger. McClintock's effort to do that Saturday by insulting the governor's Democratic rivals drew an acid response from Garry South, Westly's chief campaign strategist.

"I don't put any stock in what an extra-chromosomed wing-nut says about anything or anybody," he said. And Bob Mulholland, a senior advisor to Angelides, said McClintock's rhetoric came "out of the 1950s."

"While an Oldsmobile from that era gets a glance, most voters have no interest in buying it," he said.

Apart from the appearances by Schwarzenegger and McClintock, the convention's biggest draw was a seminar on "the language of illegal immigration" by GOP pollster Frank Luntz. Party leaders tried but failed to bar reporters.

"Anger will only get you so far, but compassion will get you an extra 10% to 15%," Luntz told the animated crowd. Attendees shouted "yes!" when he broached such subjects as sending troops to the borders.

Luntz said changing the language used to discuss immigration would allow the GOP to take control of the policy debate and win back voters. He suggested asking people if immigrant children should "have access" to public schools rather than if services should be "denied" to them. A denial, he said, suggests immigrants are not getting something they deserve.

He said Republicans should say "temporary worker" instead of "guest worker," because being a guest suggests there is no deadline to leave. Never use the phrase "English immersion," he said, because ordinary people won't understand it. He cautioned against punishing the children of illegal immigrants and said "the Latino moms will embrace" naming English as the official language.

Luntz said that on a number of illegal immigration questions, "no group is more hostile ... than Arnold Democrats" and suggested engaging in a debate on immigration. "This is the political answer in how to make the Republican Party the dominant party in California," he said.