After Arnold, What Will Calif. Republicans Do?

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This weekend the California Republican Party is holding its convention. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a year and a half left in office, but many Republicans are already looking beyond the era of Arnold. Scott Shafer of member station KQED gave us this report.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This weekend, the California Republican Party is holding its convention. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger still has a year and a half left in office, but as Scott Shafer from member station KQED reports, many Republicans are already looking beyond the era of Arnold.

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the convention of the California Republican Party and the kickoff for the election of a new Republican governor in 2010 in the state of California.

(Soundbite of applause)

SCOTT SHAFER: Of course, there is still the matter of the Republican governor they have now. He was here in the ballroom of a posh resort near Palm Springs, California, speaking before his would-be successors, and joking about his differences with conservative Republicans.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): But let me tell you, I just want to assure you that definitely I had also my differences with Democrats as well. To be honest with you, I have spent a lot of nights sleeping in my garage.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: That's right.

SHAFER: Jokes about his marriage to a member of the Kennedy family are vintage Schwarzenegger. But many in the Republican Party are no longer laughing.

Ms. ANN ROMMEL (Delegate, Orange County): I'm very frustrated with him.

SHAFER: Ann Rommel, a convention delegate from Orange County, is disappointed that Schwarzenegger didn't keep his promise to cut taxes and reform government.

Ms. ROMMEL: He sold us a bill of goods, got elected on a completely different platform and he's not following through.

SHAFER: After Schwarzenegger defeated Democrat Gray Davis in a recall election six years ago, he took a shot at passing the reforms he promised, but got tangled in a messy fight with Democrats and employee unions. But conservatives are facing a dilemma in 2010. The three leading candidates for the Republican nomination for governor are all social moderates from Northern California's Silicon Valley.

All three - former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, and former Congressman Tom Campbell - all support a woman's right to an abortion, and they support many legal rights for gay couples. Campbell says the party's social conservatives will come around.

Mr. TOM CAMPBELL (Republican, California): There appears to be a consensus that what divides us on social issues is less important than what unites us on the economic issues.

SHAFER: Campbell has spelled out in great detail on his Web site how he'd cut $17 billion in state spending. But he's refused to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. In a move to woo fiscal conservatives, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner not only signed the no-tax pledge, he promised to cut taxes, despite record deficits.

Mr. STEVE POIZNER (Commissioner, California Department of Insurance): I agree that the next governor will be a conservative, needs to be a conservative, and I'm definitely the one running in this race that has the conservative background and passion.

SHAFER: Whitman has a huge personal fortune, and she's already put $19 million into her campaign. But the 53-year-old political newcomer is also facing a backlash over recent revelations that she didn't register to vote until 2002 and missed some elections after that.

Ms. MEG WHITMAN (Former CEO, eBay): I made a mistake. I didn't register to vote as often as I should. I didn't vote as often as I should. It is inexcusable and it's not the right thing.

SHAFER: Just 31 percent of registered voters in California are now Republican. But State Party Chair Ron Nehring says President Obama's political struggles are putting a spring back in Republicans' step.

Mr. RON NEHRING (Chairman, Republican Party, California): In the first couple months after the 2008 election, you couldn't go to any party meeting where people didn't talk about how all the brand is damaged or the party has to be rebranded. You don't hear that talk anymore.

SHAFER: Nehring says Republicans in California will be united in opposing the president and in opposing anyone the Democrats might nominate for governor in 2010.

For NPR News, I'm Scott Shafer in Indian Wells, California.

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