California Republicans spent much of their weekend convention soul-searching over the battered party's future and debating a plan of attack for 2010, when they hope to capitalize on anti-tax protests and growing national conservative anger over President Barack Obama's health care proposals.
Most of the attention during their three-day convention at a resort near Palm Springs was on the three GOP gubernatorial candidates, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former five-term congressman Tom Campbell.
They sought to contrast their Republican credentials with somber messages that contrasted with the flashier tenure of the man they're hoping to succeed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose term ends in 2011.
Whitman appeared to get the most attention of the three, but it was on a subject she would like to shed: her voting record.
The billionaire refused to answer repeated questions from reporters about her voting record, including why she didn't vote and when she first registered as a Republican.
"I did not vote. I should've voted. It is inexcusable," she said. "I've said what I'm going to say about it."
The lack of a voting record charge is not new, but that didn't keep it off the front page of the Sacramento Bee last week.
It pointed out that the former eBay executive did not cast a ballot in the election for the man she now wants to replace. And there was no way the special election ballot (including one Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in 2003 could have slipped her mind. The lack of her vote followed a Business Week magazine article that called her out as one of a group of top executive with a "worse than spotty voting record."
The Bee reviewed Whitman's voting record in six states and found she regularly skipped voting. They had a hard time finding any evidence that she was even registered to vote in most of them.
The first bonafide record that could be found was from September 2002 in San Mateo County.
Just hours after the Bee article was posted online, Whitman released the following statement:
"Voting is a precious right that all Americans should exercise. I have repeatedly said that my voting record is inexcusable. I failed to register and vote on numerous occasions throughout my life. That is simply wrong and I have taken responsibility for my mistake."
Following that honest assessment came the spin:
"California needs leaders who are accountable for their actions. I take responsibility for mine, while my opponent, Steve Poizner, runs from his. On everything from his position on taxes to his political contributions, Steve hides behind others or misrepresents himself."
For the record, Poizner's voting record is solid. He issued a press release of his own Thursday saying it is understandable that Whitman is ashamed of her record. "In the history of America, no one has been elected governor of a state with Meg Whitman's 25 year history of no show voting. She is unelectable and has tried to cover her lack of honesty with millions of dollars," according to Poizner.
Back to the convention: All three GOP candidates are trying to contrast their Republican credentials with somber messages that contrasted with the flashier tenure of the man they're hoping to succeed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose term ends in 2011.
The moderate GOP governor has never been well-liked among the party stalwarts who dominate such conventions. Schwarzenegger did little to repair that relationship during a brief address Friday night, particularly when he mentioned the landmark global warming law he signed in 2006.
Many Republicans oppose the law to curb greenhouse gas emissions because they say it will be too costly for businesses.
In a jab against Schwarzenegger and other moderates, a punchy Poizner on Saturday night urged delegates not to let outsiders sway the direction of the party.
"Don't let people come in here and tell you that we need to rebrand the Republican party. Don't let anyone come in here and tell you we need to reposition the Republican party. When people come in here and tell you we need to move the Republican party to the center, that is wrong," he said to loud cheers.
Campbell and Whitman have both proposed massive spending cuts to bring California's budget in line, although Whitman has so far declined to say where she would find the $15 billion in cuts she proposed. Poizner is pushing a proposal to lower nearly all the state's taxes, but has been unable to say how much that would cost the state or how much he hopes to generate through the increased growth he says that would spur.
Meanwhile, the Republican race to challenge liberal stalwart Barbara Boxer for her U.S. Senate seat next year also gained momentum this weekend after Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, announced she is exploring a run.
Her entrance in the contest pits a socially conservative state lawmaker, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, against a former CEO whose views are barely known to GOP voters in the state. DeVore was scheduled to address delegates Sunday. Fiorina, who is battling breast cancer, declined to attend this weekend's gathering because she is in the final stages of treatment, her campaign said.
And one more thing: Whitman gave the party $250,000 for voter registration efforts before the convention.