Political Analysis: The State GOP Convention In San Diego
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The California Republican Party is holding its fall convention in San Diego this weekend. The GOP's two major midterm election candidates, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, are the stars of the gathering. Organizers say there's a lot of energy going into this convention as Republicans work towards retaining the governorship and picking up some seats in Congress.
Joining us for a preview of the GOP Convention in San Diego is my guest, KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner. Good morning, Gloria.
GLORIA PENNER (KPBS Political Correspondent): Good morning, Maureen. I’m sort of taking a deep breath before the Republicans come to town.
CAVANAUGH: Well, and how big is this Republican convention? How many people are going to be here?
PENNER: It’s big. The Republican National – or the California Republican Party has 1600 members, and of those 1600 they expect about 800 and 1000 to attend. So that is a big convention. And, of course, there’ll be some guests as well. It’s expected to be quite a fete.
CAVANAUGH: And where’s it going to take place?
PENNER: Well, it’s going to take place at the Manchester Grand, that’s the one downtown.
PENNER: I think it used to be called the Hyatt, now it’s Manchester Grand. And from what I understand, it’s going to be such a big convention because Southern California, especially the San Diego area now – excuse me, is considered one of the liveliest Republican enclaves in the state.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, we’ll have to talk about that more but first how – has San Diego hosted a state GOP convention recently?
PENNER: Not for four years, so it’s really a big deal. What happens is the home committee, those people who live here who are part of the local Republican Party, they help with volunteers and the staffing and it’s really a big production. And they expect that the – it’s going to be so big because it’s quite inexpensive. To register, if you’re a delegate or an associate pay – you pay $75.00 for the two and a half days. It starts on Friday and it ends Sunday – It starts Friday evening, really, and it ends Sunday after lunch. And then the cost at the hotel, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, that’s it, Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, is $165 plus tax and occupancy, and it’s expected that people are going to save money by bunking together. And the workshops don’t cost anything, and that’s a good part of it. But, of course, you have to pay for the meals and they aren’t cheap. The luncheons and the dinner banquets each cost $100. And the VIP receptions are $200, and if you want a VIP reception and a photograph with the star of the moment, it’s $300. So you can get a picture with Carly or Meg or Darrell—actually, they call them Carly and Meg, but they always call him Congressman Issa. I thought that’s rather interesting. One of the more expensive elements or activities is Sunday’s prayer breakfast, which will cost you $70.00 for breakfast but then, of course, you have the lead pastor of the Skyline Wesleyan Church leading the service and being the star there.
CAVANAUGH: Everything for a fiscal conservative all the way up to a big spender, so that’s…
PENNER: Exactly. Exactly.
CAVANAUGH: Now let me ask you, a lot of conventions have a lot to do with policy and people hammering out platforms and so forth. Is a lot of that going to go on in this convention?
PENNER: No, I really don’t believe so. Not much business will be done on the state party level because most of the business was already handled. They have two conventions a year, and they had their spring convention in Northern California and that’s where the business is done. This is a motivational meeting. There’ll be a lot of networking, people rubbing elbows or shoulders or whatever they rub, and there’ll be training opportunities and lots of parties and events. I was looking over the schedule and Friday when you show up, of course, there’ll be some workshops but at five o’clock there’s happy hour. And then at 7:30 there’s the dinner banquet featuring Meg Whitman. And then at Saturday at eleven o’clock in the morning there’s a VIP reception and then Carly Fiorina’s the speaker at lunch and then there’s another VIP reception at six o’clock and then the dinner features Congressman Issa. And then the hospitality suite’s open, and they open Saturday night and they’re actually open Friday night, too. So there’s going to be parties, and events. And when I read all of the materials, I felt the theme was this, that our party is the party of the future while the Democrats are led by a ticket rooted in the failed ideas of the past. I think that that’s what the theme is going to be. And the workshops sure give you a clue to what’s going to happen during the campaign. I mean, they’re focusing on Obama’s foreign policy, they’re talking about how big labor disrupts California. We have the focus also on the Obama health plan. They’re going to go after Nancy Pelosi like crazy. And they’re also going to do some training on how you get out the vote. That’s going to be very important.
CAVANAUGH: And one local Republican San Diego City Council member is going to be a featured speaker at one of these convention workshops.
PENNER: This is true, and that’s Carl DeMaio. Carl DeMaio is – actually, he is going to be the chair of a panel and it’s called, in typical Carl DeMaio fashion, “The Pension Tsunami.” And he’s going to be talking about how state and local governments are reeling from the skyrocketing expenses for the pensions and what kinds of pension reforms should Republicans advocate, champion, to save California from the pension tsunami. So, you know, that’s been his mantra all along and now he has a chance to really dance it out at the Republican convention.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner, and she is giving us a preview of the fall convention of the California Republican Party that starts this weekend in San Diego. Now I know among the stars of this convention you have Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina. North County Congressman Darrell Issa has become a very high profile politician in Washington. Is he going to be here for the convention?
PENNER: Oh, yes, indeed. There is a rumor that he’s going to hold his usual Issa Cream Social.
PENNER: Yeah, but I’m not – I have not verified that but I do know that he’s going to be the featured speaker Saturday night and he is becoming widely known nationally as the Republican’s sharpest thorn in the president’s side, you know, they’re calling him the chief pest in Washington, at least the New York Times has called him that. His message will center on laying out the case why Californians need to elect Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and return the GOP to control the Congress, and what oversight in 2011 should look like. Oversight is a keyword here because he is the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. And if Congress should be taken over by the Republicans then he would become chair of that committee and that would be a very powerful post.
PENNER: I want to mention one thing.
PENNER: I’m going to plug the fact that I was able to grab an interview with him for this Friday night on San Diego Week. So if your listeners decide to become viewers at eight o’clock, or eleven o’clock on Saturday night, and they’ll see Darrell Issa being interviewed by me.
CAVANAUGH: That will be on Friday night and…
PENNER: Friday night.
CAVANAUGH: …that’s on San Diego Week.
PENNER: San Diego Week.
CAVANAUGH: And you’ll be interviewing Congressman Issa. What – You mentioned that there’s this energy that the Republicans have going into this state convention here in San Diego. What are they hoping for in the 2010 elections?
PENNER: Well, I think you almost preempted all of that in your introduction. The truth is that they are hoping to sweep the major contests. They want to elect Meg Whitman as governor over Jerry Brown. They want to elect Carly Fiorina over Barbara Boxer. The local head of the Republican Party, Tony Krvaric, put it this way, he said that Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi are like fingernails on chalkboard, and that is helping to sort of focus the Republicans. And so they hope also to pick – have enough seats on the Republican ticket so that they will be able to take over Congress and that would oust Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. So they have quite a course for themselves and it really all depends on whether they can get out the Republican vote.
CAVANAUGH: Now the political pundits tell us that the party in power usually loses seats in a midterm election but is – are there any signs, polling information, that the GOP really has – maybe looking at a very, very good election in November?
PENNER: There are, indeed. In fact, Gallup came out with this latest update on 2010 on Tuesday and he found that congressional voting preferences finds that 50% of registered voters say they would vote for the Republican candidate in their district. This is nationwide. It’s a generic selection. No name, just would you vote for a Republican or a Democrat? 50%. 43% say they would vote for the Democratic candidate. Now Republicans have led in each of the last three weeks and that current 50% vote share—and it is a 7% lead over the Democrats—represent their best showings yet in 2010. And a strong Republican showing this fall would be consistent with what Gallup’s recent research shows, that the party of a president with approval ratings below 50% tend to suffer heavy losses, and right now President Obama has only an approval rating of 44%.
CAVANAUGH: And the turnout, doesn’t it really hinge on that? And which party is more enthusiastic about going to the polls?
PENNER: Well, I think you’ve hit a key area. Republicans have appeared to report voter enthusiasm. They maintain a large advantage. 44% of Republicans say they are very enthusiastic about voting this year compared with 28% of Democrats. Now that gap had been slightly larger in prior months. It appears to be shrinking a little bit but regardless of the size of the gap, the continuing Republican advantage and enthusiasm is a very positive sign for the party’s hopes in the fall elections. And if they can maintain that voter enthusiasm and if they can translate that to get out the vote, then they have really a super opportunity to gain seats in the fall elections.
CAVANAUGH: Bringing it back to here, the state convention that’s coming here to San Diego this weekend, you mentioned that the San Diego Chapter, the Republican – the San Diego Republicans have a pretty good reputation statewide. Tell us a little bit about that.
PENNER: They do. The San Diego Republicans, and the chair, again, is Tony Krvaric, are perceived as an aggressive group. They’re on the move because according to Krvaric, of course, we’re – he says we’re innervated, we call out the Democrats every chance we get. And if you recall, they sued the City of San Diego who had a contribution ban for political parties. And so, you know, that gave them a lot of up-front publicity and public notice. They’re thought of as being sort of ahead of the rest of the state in terms of Republican activity, and Krvaric is very available to the press, and the party puts out lots of press releases so the organization is kept in front of the public. But, statewide, the Republicans are very active as well. They are holding a campaign training session for new legislative and congressional candidates and they’re having training programs that also teach people how to get out the vote. And this is going to be, as I said many times, very important to them.
CAVANAUGH: And it sounds like it’s a very different convention than took place in the 2008 – before the 2008 election.
PENNER: Well, I asked Krvaric about that. He said he can’t even compare the fall of 2008 to now. That was a distinctly depressing time for Democrats (sic) as Barack Obama gained traction along with the Democrats and – But now he feels there are 1600 walkable precincts in the San Diego region and he hopes to have a volunteer in every single one of those precincts.
CAVANAUGH: Well, that’s the Republican convention, the state Republican convention here in San Diego this weekend. I want to thank you, Gloria.
PENNER: You’re welcome. It’s better than being there, isn’t it?
CAVANAUGH: It’s almost as good…
CAVANAUGH: …let’s put it that way. Gloria Penner is KPBS political correspondent and host of Editors Roundtable and San Diego Week. And you can see her interview with North County Congressman Darrell Issa on San Diego Week Friday at 8:00 p.m. on KPBS television. If you have a comment, KPBS.org/thesedays is the place to go. Coming up, some good reasons to take your cat to the vet. That’s as These Days continues here on KPBS.