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GOP Stunner: Newt Sits Down with Calbuzz

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

A jolt of shock and awe shot through the Republican state convention Saturday, as word that Calbuzz, for heaven sakes, had scored the exclusive online-only interview with presidential wannabe Newt Gingrich.

“I can’t believe they let you guys near him,” yelped Old Chronicle conservative columnist Debra Saunders, eyes rolling rapidly in her head.

The National Affairs Desk was ushered into the Gingrich suite at the convention hotel a few hours before he delivered the star-turn speech of the convention to about 500 delegates over plated chicken. And no, we didn’t get a glimpse of Callista fixing her hair while we were in there.

“Listen, I came to this convention to literally outline why I think California will be in play this fall,” Newt told us.

The unexpected summit with Gingrich, who ranks fourth in the GOP field in the most recent Field Poll of California Republicans, took place in the sitting room of the candidate’s digs high on the second floor of the fashionable Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport, as pictured above (no, it’s not a Photoshop). It came about after days of delicate, behind-the-scenes negotiations with Friend of Calbuzz Eric Beach, Newt’s California finance director.

In an engaging but cordial exchange, we asked Gingrich to explain how he can sell his right-wing views on a host of issues on which he is at odds with a majority of Californians, from immigration and abortion rights to energy and the environment. We’ll publish a complete report with Newt’s replies to our brilliant questions on Monday.

P.S. The Chronicle, in the persons of Saunders, Carla Marinucci and Joe Garofoli, were the other news organization to land a sit-down with the Grinch. In advance of its dead tree edition, they posted a couple of cool video previews of their piece, which you can check out here.

Lost Mittens:  Gingrich wasn’t alone in discussing the possibility and implications of California playing a decisive role in the GOP nominating race, as hallways and meeting rooms of the Hyatt hummed and buzzed with talk of Golden State scenarios.

As Calbuzz cartoonist Tom Meyer shows today, that may not have been a possibility that Mitt Romney spent much time planning for. Until now.

 

Road Trip: Calbuzz Heads for GOP Confab

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Deeply determined to provide world-class political coverage for our readers while piling up vast mounds of paid overtime for ourselves, the Calbuzz National Affairs desk embarks to the alluring and bewitching burg of Burlingame this weekend to check in on the state Republican Party convention. After all, who could pass up a chance to hear Newt Gingrich explain California to Californians?

At a time when the state GOP is desperately seeking ways and means to regain some influence in the state, the event will offer an intriguing look at how Republican leaders and activists plan to try to navigate their future, assuming they’re all that interested in having one. Here is a look at five key questions as the party prepares to gather at the fabulous San Francisco Airport Hyatt Regency:

Will Carla Marinucci be forced to wear a burqa? With national Republicans waging a full-bore war on women, from their effort to ban insurance coverage of contraceptives to their push for transvaginal pre-natal exams and unrelenting attacks on Planned Parenthood, it will interesting to see whether or how much the California GOP piles on.

From Friday night’s convention dinner, headlined by anti-condom clown-show congressman Darrell Issa, who recently convened a panel to testify about contraception that included zero women, to Sunday’s breakfast, featuring the Biblical literalist stylings of the ossified Rev. Lou Sheldon, we’ll be alert to see if the Marinucci/Williams/Van Oot female faction, whose aggressive reporting often leads the way for the press corps, gets shunted off to single gender separate seating behind a brocaded screen.

Change or more of the same? It was the late actor Strother Martin, portraying a prison guard officer in the 1967 Paul Newman vehicle “Cool Hand Luke,” who first uttered the immortal line, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Sadly for state Republicans, their party leaders seem to have adopted his words as an operational strategy.

Convention after convention, we hear GOP honchos insist that their ideas and policies are breathtakingly superior to the Democrats, and that the only reason they’re circling the drain is their difficulty in “communicating” their brilliance to voters. Most recently, our friend Jeff Randle, one of the sharper strategists among California Republicans, took to the pages of the SacBee to make this case. Randle got the diagnosis right:

The Republican Party may be the only significant entity in California that is experiencing a severe contraction of its diversity. Or, more simply stated, the Republican Party is getting smaller, older and whiter.

Registration has declined even though the state added more than 2 million voters since 2000. We represent only 30 percent of voters, and those under 40 are not registering GOP. Decline-to-state registration is rising, and we are collapsing into a narrowly defined ideological corner that alienates moderate and independent voters.

As for his prescription, however, it was more of the same old same old claim that the GOP problem is message, not substance:

The GOP is not the incredible shrinking party because it’s wrong on the issues fundamental to California’s plight. The sad irony is that we are right, and perhaps because of that, we have stopped delivering the message Californians need to hear.

Back in November 2010, just days after the Republicans suffered another total skunking at the polls, Calbuzz offered a clear-eyes full-hearts five-point program and way forward for the GOP to regain relevance. On the remote chance it’s been forgotten in the GOP councils of power, it still resides in our incomparable archive here. We can hardly wait for the big platform debate to see how it plays at the convention.

Adios hombres y mujeres? Stop us if you’ve heard this, but the number one reason Republicans in California are swiftly headed in the direction of the Whigs and Free Soilers is their refusal to deal with the crucial pathway to citizenship issue for undocumented workers.

GOP chairman Tom Del Baccaro, bless his earnest heart, once again is ballyhooing a “Latino Town Hall” event at the convention to highlight his, no doubt well-intentioned, effort to win at least a smidgen of support among the fastest growing segment of the electorate in the state and nation (he’s also hosting similar events for Asian-Americans and what you call your Young Voters – pretty soon he’ll have his own Rainbow Coalition, just like the Democrats!).

But without an intelligent and respectful policy answer to the intractable illegal immigration issue, all the tired old talk about low taxes, less regulation, traditional family values, blah, blah, is just that. Just ask Republican Senator Mario Rubio of Florida, who seems somewhat appalled at the spectacle of immigrant bashing by the GOP presidential wannabes:

What’s the Republican legal-­immigration plan? And that’s a problem, when all they hear from you is what you’re against and not what you’re for. The Republican Party has to become the pro–legal immigration party. It has to be a party that puts out two things: a common­sense, compassionate yet law-based response to people that are here without documents, and a robust legal-­immigration system that ­emphasizes border security, worker security and an workable visa program. We have to have a proactive policy in that regard, and we haven’t.

Who is the anti-Dianne? Republicans are down to the fourth string in trying to come up with a plausible sacrificial lamb challenger to Senator Dianne Feinstein. But then again so were the Knicks when they finally gave Jeremy Lin a shot.

Autism research advocate Elizabeth Emken, whose greatest political claim to fame is coming in 13th or 14th in the 2010 GOP primary for a Bay Area congressional seat, has been working hard to boost her profile, with a major assist from Friend of Calbuzz Mark Standriff.  And over at Flashreport, our pal Jon Fleischman delivered a big wet sloppy kiss this week to Dan Hughes, an Oceanside small business owner, to get his long, long, long, long, long shot bid launched.

We’ll let you know if we bump into either of the wannabes at the bar.

Will Flash buy Newt’s drinks? Speaking of the bar, we’ll be watching to see if Fleischman ponies up for a couple rounds for  Gingrich, the big star of the weekend. Callista too, if she’s in the mood for knocking back a couple of Cosmos.

The Flash makes no secret of his, um, complicated feelings about the Grinch, but we know that won’t get in the way of him playing the good host and showing Newt a wild and crazy time amid the bright lights of downtown Burlingame.

Let’s get this party started.

Meanwhile back on Planet Earth: Not that it matters to the anti-tax purists who will be gathered in Burlingame, but to the rest of California that may struggle this November to decide how to fund California, we note that the Field Poll on Friday became the second survey in the last few days to report that Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase initiative is less popular than the so-called millionaire’s tax, proposed by the California Federation of Teachers and the Courage Campaign.

According to the Field Poll, the CFT/Courage Campaign tax measure – which would add 3% on earnings over $1 million a year and 5% on earnings over $2 million – has the support of 63% of voters. Brown’s measure — a temporary increase on earnings over $250,000 and a temporary ½-cent sales tax increase – pulls 58% from voters.

A third measure, sponsored by philanthropist Molly Munger – increasing income taxes for everyone on a sliding scale – trails with just 45% among voters.

The Field Poll findings echoed polling done by J. Moore Methods and released by Gov. Brown’s political team showing the CFT/Courage Campaign tax with 55%, compared to 53% for Brown’s measure and 31% for Munger’s.

Brown’s poll took a step that Field did not, asking voters how they’d choose if all three measures were on the ballot, finding Brown’s at 43%, CFT/Courage at 42% and Munger at 17% — leading Brown’s adviser to say that if all three make the ballot it becomes a “circular firing squad.”

Brown is hoping to convince the others to defer to him and pull their proposals, but thus far, supporters of the other initiatives are refusing to back down.

Here are the Field Poll findings: CFT/Courage Campaign, 63-31%; Brown, 58-36%; Munger 45-48%.

Calbuzz obtains Field Poll results from other sources because Field Research Corp. refuses – at the insistence of one of its major clients – to allow Calbuzz to become a paid subscriber.

Now, off to the lobby bar.

Prezboys in Michigan Melee; Babs Backs Berman

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate offers the last chance for candidates to make their cases on one stage before next Tuesday’s key Michigan primary. A loss for Mitt Romney in one of his 47 “home states” would undercut, perhaps fatally, his claim to be the most electable Republican and send his campaign into a political and psychological tailspin that could doom his once overwhelming chances. A victory there, however, would likely re-establish the campaign narrative of the Latter Day Shapeshifter as the inevitable, if unpopular, boring and annoying GOP nominee.

So much rests on the outcome in Michigan and Super Tuesday on March 5 that the political and journalistic worlds are humming with a) concern b) tension or c) desperate hope for a brokered or at least a contested Republican National Convention in Tampa this August. Republicans don’t want it, but it would be a reporters’ fervid dream — something that hasn’t happened since 1976, when President Gerald Ford narrowly defeated former California Gov. Ronald Reagan 1,187 to 1,070 delegates for the nomination.

With the stakes high, here are the key questions for each of the contenders as they face off tonight from Arizona, which also votes next Tuesday (Romney leads Santorum 36-32 there in the just-out CNN/Time poll):

1. Can Romney — finally — offer a rationale for his candidacy? With Mitt scheduled to give a major economic address in Detroit Friday, it’s way past time for him to offer a compelling reason why he should be president — or at least explain why he wouldn’t have bailed out the auto industry.

Obama has done a skillful job of framing the election as his effort to protect the middle class versus Republican policies to heap more benefits on the rich; Mitt’s biographical “I’m a great corporate manager” argument dissolved under assault on his record as a corporate raider at Bain Capital And while his hugely expensive TV attacks on party rivals have led to some a few hard-won victories in Florida and elsewhere, they’ve also sent his favorable-unfavorable ratings plummeting. Time to put up or shut up.

2. Will Santorum show up in a black turban and beard? Taliban Rick has likely frittered away his appeal to some mainstream voters with theological fist pounding on contraception, pre-natal exams, climate change, etc. and GOP establishment types are terrified he might actually win the echo-chamber nomination, further alienating the entire middle of the political spectrum. Will he reprise his blue-collar industry development message? Will he roll out his late coal-miner grandpa? Just how long can the MSM let this insufferable lawyer, lobbyist MBA son of a clinical psychologist and administrative nurse get away with playing working-class hero?

3. Does Newt have another resurrection (note careful spelling here) in him? The old windbag has played out the string at abusing debate moderators, and to get back in the game needs to take down Santorum and re-establish himself as the conservative foil to Romney. On the other hand, at this point he may just be in it to sell books and show off the fair Calista. In any case, he’s always entertaining and we’re looking forward to seeing him this weekend at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame.

4. How many Ron Paul acolytes does it take to screw in a light bulb in their mom’s basements? Can the MSM continue to take seriously a guy whose No. 1 goal seems to be to gather enough aluminum foil to make hats for his fanboy delegates?

 

Boxer Jumps into Berman v. Sherman

Closer to home, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer on Tuesday endorsed Rep. Howard Berman in the 30th Congressional District, after seeing a mailer from Rep. Brad Sherman attempting to tie Berman to the 2010 PG&E explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

Her endorsement gives Berman the big-name trifecta, along with U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein and Gov. Jerry Brown. What set Babs off, apparently, was an insane mail piece that Sherman’s campaign sent out with pictures of firefighters and the blast scene from San Bruno, asking the incendiary question: “Why did PG&E contribute $10,000 to elect Congressman Howard Berman?” Because PG&E would rather spend money supporting Berman’s SuperPAC than fixing its pipelines, the mailer argues.

“Don’t let unregulated corporate contributions from companies like PG&E decide who will represent you in Congress,” the mailer screams. “Vote for Brad Sherman.”

Said Boxer:

As you know, until now, I have stayed out of the primary in the 30th Congressional District because through the years I have worked with both you and Brad on many issues of great importance to our constituents. I can no longer do so. Because of Brad’s campaign mailing, which outrageously tries to connect you to the San Bruno tragedy, I will no longer stay neutral in this race.

Meanwhile, Sherman’s going around telling people (he even did it in a debate Tuesday night) that it was Berman who went negative first, by calling Brad “gum on the bottom of your shoe.”

But it wasn’t the Berman campaign that made that statement: It was Calbuzz. Actually, what we wrote was:

Rock star v. schmo? “This is not a clash of two titans,” said one Hollywood Democrat. “It’s a superstar congressman versus a schlemiel.” It would probably be unkind to describe Sherman as gum on the bottom of your shoe. But not really.

No doubt, some Berman supporters sent our post around, it was linked to at LA Observed and Politico, it was tweeted, Facebooked and emailed. It got more comments on our site than anything we’d ever posted. But even if Berman’s campaign had put our piece in a mailer to every voter in the district — which they didn’t — so what? One guy calls the other a schmo and the other guy says the first guy is a mass murderer?

This is what the Israelis call disproportionate response.

Consultants: CA GOP Primary Now Looming Large

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Mitt Romney’s staggering failure to solidify his electoral base has led most members of the Calbuzz California Consultanate, in six short weeks, to reverse their nearly unanimous prediction that the Latter Day Shapeshifter would soon wrap up the GOP presidential nomination.

To their surprise – and our delight – many on the Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything now say the June 5 California Republican primary, with its 172 delegates, may actually matter.

With Rick Santorum poised to hand Romney an embarrassing thumping in Michigan (one of his “home” states) next Tuesday, and with the frothy former senator leading Romney by six or seven percentage points nationally, it’s looking increasingly likely that no one can wrap up the nomination without California. Especially with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul continuing to grab their pesky shares of the vote.

“Romney is getting weaker as the process goes along and there is no incentive for Gingrich, Santorum or Paul to fold at this stage. So despite the cost, California will be a contest,” said one Republican member of our panel.

A Democratic panelist likened Romney’s dilemma to a challenge Purina Dog Chow might face: “Romney has an old advertising problem. Despite great packaging, clever ads and a super enriched formula, dogs don’t like it.”

The Schadenfreude some of our panelists are experiencing is almost palpable. Said one Democrat: “How Santorum, with one staffer somewhere in an office, is giving Romney such a fight in places like Michigan is just too much fun to watch.”

But another Democrat warned fellow partisans against getting what they’re hoping for. If the GOP race is still a battle for delegates in June, this panelist cautioned, “Democratic candidates for the Legislature and Congress better watch out for the undoubtedly huge increase in GOP turnout in the open [top-two] primary. It could make a strategy of coming in second in June, even in strong Democratic districts, much more difficult if there is a Republican in their race.”

Holy war in Golden State: Good point (Take note Howard Berman). But not one that dissuades Calbuzz from hoping against hope that the Republicans have to come campaign in California, with their hard-edged stands against a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, holy wars against gay marriage, choice and contraception and their full throated calls for off-shore oil drilling. If their stands are good enough for South Carolina and Michigan, we’d like to hear them here in the Golden State.

Not all Republicans, however, are thrilled with the prospect. Said one of our GOP panelists: “The last thing the Republicans need is three or four white guys slugging it out in front of the most diverse audience in the nation.”

Ironically, Romney’s problem right now in Michigan isn’t with voters angry that he once famously argued in a New York Times op-ed that: “If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.” That would be why he’d lose Michigan in a general election against President Obama. Instead his problem is with Tea Partiers and other knuckle-draggers on the right who think he’s back-tracking on that stand and is too wish-washy on everything else.

So he and the Super PACs supporting him are bashing Santorum from the right as the “ultimate Washington insider” who voted to raise the debt ceiling and for wasteful spending. Who knows where he stands? This guy couldn’t find himself with a divining rod in both hands. Which, despite all his fancy-pants campaign operation, is becoming increasingly clear to Republican voters.

Still, with enough carpeting bombing on TV, Romney could squash Santorum in the coming week. That might put the prospects for California mattering off again. But for now, it’s looking good for a race to the wire.

Here’s more of what our Consultanate panelists had to say.

Republicans first, since it’s their race

It’s likely that California could matter this year; the primary will continue to take twists and turns and may not be over by June.

– California may well matter again in presidential politics. It’s still too early to know but my best guess is that it will be important but somewhat anti-climactic. It will greatly help push the leading candidate — I’m still thinking it’s Romney — towards the required number of delegates necessary to be nominated. But it will be surprising if it ends up being one of the truly decisive contests of the race. The real key to the GOP battle is for Romney to finally develop a compelling message and set of issues to motivate and unite Republican voters. Until he does that, it looks like a convoluted contest to the dreary end.

– The odds are still against the California Republican Primary being meaningful, but if Santorum is able to upset Romney in his home state of Michigan, those odds are going to improve a bit.  It’s hard to imagine anyone else getting the nomination, given Romney’s edge in money and organization, but the longer he fails to land a knock-out blow, the greater the doubts he ever will.

– California will drive up Romney’s margin/mandate.  The primary is a marathon, not a sprint, and Romney has taken each “flavor of the month” candidate’s best shot and beaten them soundly.  Santorum is the next hurdle on the road to Tampa and then the White House.  

– Romney is releasing the dogs of war on Santorum, who has neither the heft nor resources to weather the storm (according to people inside Santorum’s camp).  He’ll wither before cresting the Sierras. Gingrich is done, and Paul is a sweet novelty act. But still, this will stretch out, so Romney needs to invest in California, since delegates here are apportioned based on how the GOP presidential contenders do in each congressional district — making it the perfect place for targeted cable and direct mail. Romney has the resources to compete and win here. His opponents don’t. Even though he’s having to work harder for it, Romney’s still likely to win the nomination.  But why not bring an extra 172 delegates to convention.

– Not to dodge but I have no idea until after Super Tuesday [March 6].

– Yes [California will matter]. Maybe it is his Mormon faith which prohibits gambling, but since Romney has shown his ineptitude at “running the table” (in the wake of his Florida romp) this nomination contest seems destined for a long slog.

– Who knows.  All depends on the results from Super Tuesday.

– Probably [California will matter]. The winner-take-all-by-congressional district means a mountain of delegates could go to one candidate. In the 2008 early primary, John McCain swept all but a couple and Romney dropped out. If all four are still running Romney should sweep up.

Democrats, the gleeful spectators

– Unless there’s an unexpected Michigan landslide one direction or the other, Romney’s permanent ceiling with the conservative base and bend-but-don’t-break electoral dysfunction virtually guarantees a long, excruciating, Bataan Death March slog to the nomination. So, yeah, hard to believe but California is going to be relevant.

– Things being where they are today, it is totally conceivable that the California GOP primary will matter. I would never have said that three weeks ago, but today it seems possible. Romney is certainly not wearing well the longer he stays front and center on the political stage; allowing for wing nuts like Gingrich and Santorum to hang in. And let’s not forget Ron Paul isn’t going anywhere…How Santorum with one staffer somewhere in an office is giving Romney such a fight in places like Michigan is just too much fun to watch…But the math indicates that it’s now hard to see a way, if all four stay in the race, that the primary season won’t extend at least into April and more likely through June…Face it Mitt, they don’t like you…they really, really don’t like you out there. 

– It is hard to imagine that even with the current inability of the GOP primary process to settle on a nominee (or even a front-runner) that this thing could go into June and still matter.  On the other hand, with Santorum looking strong in Rust Belt states like Michigan and Ohio and Newt perhaps poised to win in the South, those two could siphon off enough delegates that it could take Romney until June to actually reach the magic number

– Who knows where and when the music will stop in the GOP musical chairs primary, and who will be the last one sitting down. Michigan may well be Romney’s Waterloo, which would make the chances of California playing the kingmaker. Certainly, Newt Gingrich, by virtue of the time spent here this week, thinks so. As much as it seemed improbable a few weeks back, California may well be the decider.

– California may be the whole game.  It is likely that one of the existing candidates will need to win California to lock down enough delegates to clinch the nomination. Also a late entry in the California primary could succeed in blocking a nomination and force this to the convention. The race for Democratic nomination fight wasn’t close enough for Jerry Brown’s late success in 1976 to force a convention fight — this year could be different on GOP side.

– Looks like that could be the case. We may even be headed to the first modern era brokered convention.

– The California primary may matter, because it is mathematically possible that Romney does not end up with 1,144 delegates before then. Ron Paul’s back-room strategy is to work the delegate selection process hard in most states, and it is a multi-step process in many of them that takes place long after the caucus or primary is over — and the other candidates are gone. Because of the proportional distribution of delegates between now and April, all four candidates are likely to end up with sizable numbers of delegates. Of course, if it does come down to California, Romney will have to be careful that he doesn’t get distracted by checking on the tear-down of his La Jolla mansion and the construction of his new $12 million “second home” replacement mansion there.

– It will not matter in the long run because Obama will win. If this is the.best the.Republicans can put forward it may be time to start a new party…. California won’t matter because Newt, Ron Paul and Santorum do not have the infrastructure for the grinding task of securing delegates in all the states.  California is too late in the process. 

– There is a 50% chance of California primary being in play.

– Conventional wisdom says no. Santorum and Gingrich don’t have the infrastructure or money to go the distance…However, Romney can’t close the deal with Republican primary voters. Maybe, just maybe, our political junkie dreams come true and California matters.