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GOP's Golden State Gold Strike

Tuesday, 25 September 2001 12:00 AM

When terrorists attacked New York and the Pentagon it changed everything in the United States, including the Grand Old Party's prospects in the Golden State, giving Republicans a new lease on life.

The question is: Will they jump on it?

Frankly, their track record isn't too great.

As the sun rose on the Eleventh of September, things looked dismal for California Republicans.

California is the biggest political plum in the land, to which Republicans seem to be denied access.

The nation's most-populous state – with more than 34 million, putting it far ahead of No. 2 Texas, with its 20 million-plus, and once-No. 1 New York, now No. 3 by a couple of million.

Just one city in the state – Los Angeles, population in excess of 10 million – has more residents than all but seven of the 50 states.

California is a virtual country within a country. That's no small country, either. Its annual gross product of $1.2 trillion puts it behind only the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and France. California enjoys even a richer economy than the People's Republic of China – with Hong Kong thrown in.

Yet the Golden State is as close to being a Democratic one-party state as any during the Roosevelt New Deal.

Democrats control every statewide office but one, secretary of state. They hold both seats in the United States Senate and 33 of the California delegation's 52 in the House of Representatives.

Reapportionment of state legislative districts in the 2000 census gives the Democratic Party a lock on both houses under the Capitol dome here in Sacramento.

Democrats, led by Gov. Gray Davis, who devoted nine continuous days of campaigning with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, gave California's 54 electoral votes to Gore in 2000. The margin was a whopping 54 per cent to 41 over George W. Bush, who barely made it into the White House.

The California Republican Party has been in dismal disarray, its leaders described by columnist Daniel Weintraub in the Sacramento Bee as "perennially dysfunctional ... at each other's throats."

Bush's operatives in California had for months been trying, without success, to jump-start some life into the self-defeating state GOP.

No one was giving Republicans a serious chance of salvaging anything in the 2002 or 2004 elections. California was written off.

But by sunset on the Eleventh of September, all that went out the window. It became a whole new ball game.

Here's how:

Californians instinctively closed ranks behind President Bush. Party affiliations became irrelevant. Californians were now Americans first.

As never before, California was overnight an inseparable, integral part of America, no longer just an icon of a Democratic enclave.

Among 1,084 California adults polled, 85 percent were supporting how Bush was handling the crisis. Eighty-three percent wanted to back him in using military force against the terrorist attackers.

Compare that with these Field Poll figures in May: Only 42 percent of California adults surveyed thought Bush was doing a good job and the rest gave him a dismissive thumbs-down.

The San Francisco Bay area is usually regarded as the most liberal of California's hard core of Democratic strength. But as the nation and Californians statewide came together behind the president after the Eleventh of September, the Field Poll found that 79 percent of Democrats surveyed there were joining 90 percent of Bay area Republicans rallying around the GOP president.

Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo was floored. He had expected nothing like that.

Democratic politicians up and down the state didn't need to wait for a poll to tell them which way the wind was roaring.

A decade ago, when President George W. Bush's father, George Herbert W. Bush, was president – and rounding up a coalition of nations to repel Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait – Boxer voted against using force.

Not this time, not against this Bush. The very next day after the attacks, she was front and center on the Senate floor. Taking off like a Republican hawk, she was demanding unstinting support for her president:

"We are resolved to honor those who died. We are resolved to hold those who plan these attacks, who harbor these people, absolutely accountable.

"They must pay because this is the test of a civilized nation. We lead the civilized nations of the world. We will not back down."

So wired up is Boxer that she's now in Dutch with one of her biggest liberal support groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, which is aghast that she wants to give her recent adversary, Attorney General John Ashcroft, greater wiretap authority to go after terrorists.

Appearing on national television – where she usually screeches invectives at the president she has denounced as illegitimate (the Supreme Court didn't agree with her that Bush lost in Florida) – she was the epitome of patriotic resolve and bipartisan decorum.

When admonished by a liberal CNN moderator that this wasn't like her, and then invited to say when she would get back to Bush-bashing, she replied, "Not for a long, long time."

For now, she's right there in Bush's corner.

Well-intended or not, she went way, way over the top, too far even for her liberal constituents. That vote could become Lee's Appomattox, so furious and numerous have been the e-mails clogging up her computer.

There is such a demand for American flags that stores cannot obtain them fast enough from manufacturers.

In Sacramento neighborhoods where thieves devote themselves to swiping bicycles, flower pots, anything not chained or nailed down, they have been busy boosting Old Glory off homes throughout the city. No one bothers to ask where a seller gets his flags. If it's red, white and blue, it's a deal.

There is scene after scene of young men in battle uniforms, laden under field packs, kissing sweethearts farewell. This really hits home.

Suddenly, everyone in California is freshly aware of such names of nearby military facilities now on war footing as: Travis Air Force Base (transport and cargo planes), Beale Air Force Base (U-2 spy planes), Ream Field (Navy nighttime helicopter training), Camp Pendleton (Marine Corps troops).

Within the first week after the Eleventh of September, 27 publicly traded companies with substantial operations in the area registered losses in value ranging from .4 percent to 30.6 percent. The average loss was 13.8 percent.

Only a few dared suggest it was the fault of "that Republican in the White House."

Will California Republicans let voters forget him? Will they let Chandra Levy disappear into history as another undiscovered victim in the rubble of the World Trade Center?

It wasn't of his making, but he is getting the lion's share of the blame. Indeed he should, for the governor has botched it at every turn since coming to office in January 1999.

At backyard cookouts among lifelong residents – Democrats and Republicans – who have felt the pocketbook pain wrought by the energy debacle, the mention of Gray Davis' name brings groans and rolling of eyes.

Will Republicans nominate a commanding Republican candidate for governor in 2002? Or will they, as is their habit, bleed themselves to death in a senseless primary and hand over the governorship to a Democrat again?

As is its custom, the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce conducted the annual Perspectives symposium, filling the downtown Convention Center.

There was a stellar array of speakers, such as former secretary of State Henry Kissinger, conservative columnist Linda Chavez, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo and former South African President F.W. de Klerk.

Who made it onto the front page of the Sacramento Bee? The other speaker of the evening: actor Arnold Schwarznegger, who had been pretty well written off as a possible GOP candidate for governor.

No longer. That night he sounded like a serious candidate for governor. "If we all work together, we can lick every problem in the state of California," he said, indicating he's

When was the last time Californians heard that kind of talk? It was the time another movie star, Ronald Reagan, asked them to send him to the mansion, now a museum a few blocks from where Schwarznegger spoke.

What are California Republicans doing to take advantage of the political opportunity offered by all the monumental changes brought about by the Eleventh of September cataclysm?

To tell the truth, not a great deal.

Caught in mid-feud, the party was about to hold its state convention in Los Angeles when the terrorists struck. Setting aside petty differences, GOP leaders at least had the good sense to put off the gathering until next month. Meanwhile, they worked out a compromise on how to structure the party to make it more efficient … they hope.

More than hope is required. Admittedly it's still early, but it continues to look a lot like the same old scenario of Republican ineptitude in the hottest political state in the nation.

Over the years – with the exception of those when Ronald Reagan was governor, and then president – California Democrats have been masters of the art of stealing away from Republicans just about every issue to come along. And no one handed the Democratic Party an opening anywhere close to what has now been given the GOP in California.

This doesn't mean Republicans should run out and make shameless political hay in the rubble left by the terrorists.

But there is such a thing as stepping up to the plate and offering genuine leadership in times of great crisis.

This is what Bush has done for the nation. This is not what California Republicans – so far – have done for their state.

Their window of opportunity will not last forever. When Maxine Waters said she would behave for "a long, long time," what she probably meant was "not for long."

As usual, the constituents are far ahead of the California GOP leadership.

Check-out cashiers making change, airport-shuttle drivers dropping off passengers, hotel-desk clerks registering guests, highway-patrol troopers guarding the state Capitol, friends having coffee at sidewalk tables, family members greeting and saying goodbye … Californians of all walks who in the past would say unconsciously, "Have a nice day," now make honest eye contact and say instead something new and reassuring:

"Take care. Be safe"

This is also the time for California Republicans, if they expect to have any kind of political future worth the name, to do the same: Take care. Be safe.

In successful politics, though, being safe doesn't necessarily mean playing it safe.

As Winston Churchill told the British people, who underwent their own war of terror:

"No one can guarantee success in war, but only deserve it."

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When terrorists attacked New York and the Pentagon it changed everything in the United States, including the Grand Old Party's prospects in the Golden State, giving Republicans a new lease on life. The question is: Will they jump on it? Frankly, their track record isn't...
Tuesday, 25 September 2001 12:00 AM
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