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January 4, 2014
Viewpoints: California Republicans cautiously dream of success this year

Kashkari.JPG(Jan. 4 - By Rob Stutzman, Special to The Bee)

If you think a child has anxiety marking the days for Dec. 25 to arrive every year, then you have some idea how Republicans are feeling right now. For us, November 2014 cannot get here soon enough.

President Barack Obama occupies a White House that may become historically futile. Independent-minded voters who once had hope in this president now see incompetence and arrogance. Worst yet, the president's own political base is disillusioned, as "Hope and Change" has become an apparition seen only when conjured from the glass panels of the White House teleprompter.

For liberals, the cold reality of the Obama administration means the NSA is spying on them, there are still prisoners in Guantánamo and drones are targeting enemies on a "kill list" approved by the president himself, according to The New York Times.

Disappointed independents and a disaffected political base typically portend a difficult election ahead for any incumbent president's party. Indeed, the Obama second-term midterm is presently looking like a GOP Christmas bonanza with the potential for many wish lists to be fulfilled. GOP governors are poised for re-elections, the majority in the House of Representatives is safe and the big gift under the tree just might be a majority in the United States Senate.

So what could possibly deter Republicans from being visited by an election sleigh full of gifts? Being naughty, of course! Only the Republicans themselves can turn their potential gold to coal.

In fact, internal GOP strife will be on full display in 2014. As 2013 concluded, an exasperated Speaker of the House John Boehner finally lashed out against tea-party-styled GOP members of Congress who had earlier in the year pushed Washington into the government shutdown. The shutdown hurt Republicans with a majority of voters and only obscured the public's view of the emerging failure of Obamacare.

Privately, Republican leaders are expressing hope that the government shutdown strategy, led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, is now understood as having been a political mistake not to be repeated, but the split within the party still has sharp edges.

The GOP internal struggles will spill onto primary ballots across the country. While old bulls like Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., face tea-party-fueled primary challenges, the GOP's "governing class" is pushing back and expect to see more intraparty challenges to tea party darlings like the one against Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.

The GOP test is to keep their family feuds from obscuring the view of the Obama-led Democrat train wreck. Do no harm and let victory come into your arms. Easier said than done but certainly a likely scenario.

So if 2014 is a big GOP year, the question for Republicans in California is are we going to see victory or will a national GOP tide once again run out of gas on the eastern slopes of the Sierra?

That depends on how you define "victory." Republicans are virtually conceding statewide constitutional offices. No legitimate candidates for those offices are emerging, as no one wants to take on the chore of running a statewide campaign with little funding against a massive voter registration gap. Democrats are 44 percent of all voters, Republicans are 29 percent and "no party preference" is 21 percent.

Gov. Jerry Brown is likely to face a GOP opponent who will not be well funded or well known. The three potential candidates at this point all would have a very difficult path to legitimately challenging Brown.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly is a former border-patrolling Minuteman who frankly is a bit odd and has no potential to expand the GOP voter base. Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado has potential to be a "different" type of Republican but has so far campaigned like a typical Republican and has already suffered a very public breakup with his first campaign team.

The most interesting candidate of the three may be former Treasury Department executive Neel Kashkari. Kashkari is positioning himself to be a Republican candidate who can have appeal beyond the GOP base, which is essential to succeed in California. But his unconventional candidacy could become foiled in June by skeptical GOP voters who won't like that he voted for Obama in 2008 and ran the government bailout TARP program at the U.S. Treasury Department.

So with statewide races all but conceded, GOP success in 2014 will be defined by winning half a dozen congressional and legislative races. That may sound uninspiring, but for a party that has been pummeled by being slow to adapt to changing demographics, it would be a big step toward remaining relevant in California.

Visions of election sugarplums are dancing in GOP heads, but in California we dream cautiously.

Rob Stutzman is a Republican political consultant and president of Stutzman Public Affairs.