- Associated Press - Friday, March 14, 2014

BURLINGAME, Calif. (AP) - California Republicans are gathering in the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend to plot the future of the party in a state where their registration and influence have been sliding.

Former state Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte, who took over as party chairman last spring, has brought the state GOP out of debt, with the most recent financial reports filed with the state showing it has nearly $1.4 million in the bank.

“This is a party that, whether we like it or not, has been in decline for over two decades in this state,” Brulte told reporters Friday. “When I was elected to the Assembly in 1990, we were 39 percent of the electorate. We’re now less than 29 percent. So we have a significant rebuilding operation on our hands.”

Brulte said he has been focusing the party’s limited resources on races that are winnable and where there are viable candidates. He has held more than 200 meetings with Republican groups, encouraging them to get out of their comfort zones and talk with people they normally wouldn’t, he said.

Still, turning around years of losing will be an uphill climb. All statewide elected officials are Democrats, both chambers of the Legislature have large Democratic majorities, and GOP registration has continued to slide.

“It’s not going to happen in one election cycle and it’s not going to happen in two election cycles, but we’re laying the groundwork,” Brulte said.

Defending several congressional and legislative seats will be among the party’s top priorities this year, which will require significant financing.

Some Republican groups also are ramping up efforts to recruit candidates who more closely match California’s demographics. They include GROW Elect, which is targeting Latino candidates to run in local races, and California Trailblazers, which is hosting a candidate “boot camp” on “ideas and solutions that voters support.”

The Trailblazers held a press conference Friday to introduce a diverse slate of candidates, including several Latinos and Asians.

“We up here are not the face of the 1970s Republican Party,” said Janet Nguyen, 37, an Orange County supervisor whose family came from Vietnam to the U.S. when she was a child. She is seeking to defeat incumbent Sen. Lou Correa, a Democrat, in what is expected to be a competitive race that could determine the fate of the Democrats’ two-thirds control of the state Senate.

Brulte said venturing into communities where Republicans might not feel comfortable is part of his plan to push members “outside their comfort zone.”

“I do not buy the narrative that we can’t win votes in every community,” Brulte said. “We have ceded far too much territory to the Democrats because we’ve failed to even show up to try to compete. And that’s on us.”

Former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari, a moderate who is running for governor, also is hoping to reshape the party‘s image through his candidacy. Kashkari, 40, who is Indian American, told a group of young supporters Friday night that he hopes a new group of voters will connect with him, “as the son of immigrants, as somebody young, somebody who looks a little unusual compared to the typical Republican candidate.”

With roughly 1,000 delegates attending, the convention also presents a chance for candidates to woo would-be supporters and volunteers. Kashkari and the other Republican who is hoping to challenge Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown this fall, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a conservative from Twin Peaks in San Bernardino County, will be making a strong push with delegates.

Friday’s events include a reception honoring Kevin Faulconer, who recently won the San Diego mayor’s office in a closely fought and well-funded race. Republicans are pointing to that race as evidence they can succeed elsewhere.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will address the group later Friday, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the keynote speaker Saturday.

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