Schwarzenegger Eyes Truce with Calif. Conservatives

As California Republicans gather for their convention in San Jose, the state's top Republican, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has some fences to mend with the party's conservative wing — who think he is too cozy with Democrats.

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DON GONYEA, host:

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had a tough sell this weekend at the State Republican Party convention in San Jose. He had to convince his fellow Republicans to work for his re-election. Usually that would be a foregone conclusion, but many in the Governor's party have been angry at him for getting too cozy with Democrats.

NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE, reporting:

How do Republicans not love their Governor? Let us count the ways. Schwarzenegger appoints too many Democrats as judges. He appoints too many Democrats to top jobs in his administration. His proposed budget is eight percent higher than last year's. He wants to raise the minimum wage and he wants to borrow nearly $70 billion to fix the state's roads, ports and levies.

Nevertheless, he was greeted with a standing ovation when he entered the hotel ballroom. Most of the cheering, though, came from dozens of sign-waving young people sent in to the hall for just that purpose. Even after two years in office, Schwarzenegger still had to address the fundamentals.

Gov. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): The Republican party is my home. And I am proud of your support and I'm grateful for your friendship.

JAFFE: This time last year, Schwarzenegger rallied the crowd by attacking labor unions as quote "where all the evil is." Then a few months later, those unions beat him bloody in the special election. Since that defeat, he's taken steps to reach out to Democrats and independents. The Governor acknowledged that's made some Republicans doubt that he still stands for the same things they do.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: And while I know that we may not agree on every single issue, I hope that you know that I have your family's best interest in my heart as I govern this state.

JAFFE: Many in the audience were reassured, even inspired by the Governor's remarks. Elise Richmond is head of a Republican women's group in Palm Springs.

Ms. ELISE RICHMOND (Republican Women's Group): I think he is a strong leader and I think he has excellent advisors and I think the man will absolutely lead California the way it should be led.

JAFFE: Many conservatives strongly disagree with that. But party leaders wanted unity to be the theme of this convention. So State Senator Tom McClintock, a darling of the conservatives and a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, told his audience to keep their focus on the central question.

State Senator TOM McCLINTOCK (Republican, California): What's greater, the differences among us as Republicans or the differences between us and the Democrats?

JAFFE: For some conservatives at the convention, that question doesn't have an obvious answer. They introduced resolutions to withdraw the party's endorsement of Schwarzenegger and to condemn many of his policies. All but one measure was killed in committee. One of the backers of the doomed resolutions was former party chairman Michael Schroeder.

Mr. MICHAEL SCHROEDER (Former Republican Party Chairman, California): This Governor got a free pass from the conservatives for two years, but that party is over.

JAFFE: The latest opinion poll backs that up. It shows Schwarzenegger losing support among Republicans. Overall, just 40 percent of voters approve of him. Schroeder says if the Governor loses conservatives, he could lose more than just votes.

SCHROEDER: Those are the people that will go out and they'll walk precincts and they'll stamp envelopes and they'll man the phone banks and that kind of stuff. Right now, those people are going to be sitting on their hands and doing nothing.

JAFFE: But conservatives only makeup a portion of the Republican party and Republicans are only about 35 percent of the electorate. The rest is mostly Democrats and Independents. And with the election a few months away, it appears Schwarzenegger's decided to go where the votes are.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, San Jose.

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