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Former California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring Tuesday announced plans to run for lieutenant governor, framing his campaign as a challenge to the status quo and encouraging his beleaguered party to become standard-bearers of bold, serious reforms aimed at tackling the state's problems.

"Around the world, California is recognized for the innovation, creativity, and hard work of its people," Nehring said in a statement announcing his run. "But today we have a government that is failing in too many ways: sky-high unemployment, more poverty than any state in the nation, failing schools and a toxic environment for job creation. We can do better."

Republicans hold no statewide offices and have struggled to field candidates for races in June ahead of the March 7 deadline. California Republicans trail Democrats in registered voters by nearly 15 percentage points, 28.73 percent to 43.58 percent, respectively.

Voters selecting no-party preference, the fastest-growing group statewide, grew to nearly 21 percent, according to figures released Tuesday. Still, Nehring, a veteran operative who served as the state GOP chairman to from 2007 to 2011, has been among the most vocal to lament the dearth of challengers from his party.

He joins the race just days after Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom broke with many in his party in advocating for shifting high-speed rail money to more needy programs. Sean Clegg, a campaign spokesman for Newsom, was largely dismissive of Nehring's effort.

"It's hard to imagine someone basing a campaign for statewide office on leading a major political party to near extinction," Clegg said.

Nehing, a political protege of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, has been deeply involved in politics since his days as a student at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His six-year stint as chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County saw the organization grow in influence.

After leaving to lead the state party, however, Nehring had a brush with controversy when an ex-officio county central committee member referenced anonymous allegations that Nehring abused a former partner. He strongly rejected the allegations and dismissed the episode as "witch-hunt politics."

In recent years, Nehring has taught governance, public policy and communications throughout the world and helped guide the unsuccessful campaigns of former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado for governor and Elizabeth Emken for U.S. Senate.

Nehring said the lieutenant governor's office has too often served as "a taxpayer-funded gubernatorial exploratory committee."

"I have a different vision: to make the office a positive platform to develop and advocate for bold reform of state government to modernize it and make the state more economically competitive: comprehensive tax reform, pension reform, regulatory reform, education reform, reining in frivolous lawsuits, and more," he said.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 12:45 p.m. to include Clegg's comment.

PHOTO: Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party speaks at a rules committee meeting on Friday, March 18, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua



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