Moderates, Conservatives Battle at State GOP Convention

Governor Schwarzenegger told delegates to the State Republican Convention in Indian Wells that the state party must move to the center, but some in the crowd vow not to follow the Governor on that path. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde reports.

Kitty Felde: It's always nice to start off a state GOP convention with a fiery speech from a Republican governor, especially this convention, the last one before the February presidential primary.

Governor Rick Perry: We must move heaven and earth to make sure that there is never another Clinton back in the White House. Amen! Yeah! (applause)

Felde: Unfortunately, that governor, Rick Perry, hails from Texas. Perry preached the conservative mantra of family values and skepticism about global warming. The crowd loved him. California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had a different message, and a very different response from the party faithful. He told the GOP they must move to the center or lose elections.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Since 2005, we have lost 370,000 registered voters, all Republicans, and in just the last 8 months alone, our numbers have declined by 120,000. In movie terms, we would say we're dying at the box office.

Felde: Schwarzenegger touted polls that show nearly three quarters of Republicans support his global warming bill, that a majority of state party members want comprehensive health care, and transportation bonds. The room got very quiet. And then the governor spoke the unspeakable. He urged party leaders to allow independents to vote in the Republican presidential primary. The comeback road, he said, was in mining those independent voters.

Schwarzenegger: The California Republican Party should be a right-of-the-center party that occupies the broad middle of California. That is a lush green and abandoned political space. And it can be ours.

Felde: Those green pastures of the center don't appeal to the conservative wing of the party. John Fleishman is the GOP's vice chairman for Southern California.

John Fleishman: If Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to embrace the Democrat agenda, he can do it, but don't look for the party to follow him.

Felde: The battle for the ideological soul of the party was being waged behind closed doors in the party platform. One version opposed abortion, government mandated health plans, and waiting periods before buying firearms.

Steven Sion is one the 200 members of the platform committee. He's also a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay GOP group. Sion is concerned about a version of the platform circulated by the conservative wing of the party that proposes, among other things, denying homosexuals the right to adopt children.

Steven Sion: And here we are, Republicans, proud Republicans because we believe in the same fundamental values. But there is a part of our party which seeks to not recognize that we are, in fact, a part of this party.

Felde: State party chair Ron Nehring did his best to downplay ideological differences.

Ron Nehring: We're a big party, we're the party of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom McClintock, we're the Republican party of David Drier and the Republican party of Duncan Hunter.

Felde: The platform fight was postponed until the GOP's February convention. That left Sunday, the convention's day for romance. The Congresswoman who represents Indian Wells, Mary Bono, announced she's getting married ... to her Republican colleague from Florida, Congressman Connie Mack. The pair say they'll split their time between his district, her district, and the District of Columbia.