Can California's fractured GOP get it together to nominate a candidate for governor?

The GOP may be in dire straits in California, but a flurry of recent moves suggests the party of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon is not willing to abandon the 2018 gubernatorial race, as it did four years ago.

The big question is if the party will be able to marshal enough support behind a Republican candidate for governor and avoid a repeat of last fall’s Senate campaign, which, thanks to the top-two primary, was fought between two Democratic candidates.

Several Republicans are in the mix. They include conservative Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen and Rancho Santa Fe venture capitalist John Cox. Speculation is mounting that former state Assemblyman David Hadley plans to announce a run. There also are furious efforts to recruit San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer into the race, because he is viewed as the strongest possible contender. 

“It is exciting,” said Shawn Steel, a Republican National Committee member from Orange County. He said the GOP could exploit what he calls Democratic overreach in Sacramento, including the passage of an unpopular new gas tax. That plus growing alarm over quality of life issues in California could give Republicans an opening among voters who have typically not supported his party’s candidates, he said. “I’m not counting on anything as being certain in politics, but I never expected [President] Trump to win, for goodness sakes, and was delighted when he upset all the pundits.” 

A viable Republican top-of-the-ticket candidate could be crucial to driving GOP voters to the polls in seven California House races that are expected to be battlegrounds in the 2018 midterms.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) is concerned about next year’s turnout, and has been working hard trying to convince Faulconer to enter the race and show him he has a path to victory, according to multiple people familiar with McCarthy’s efforts who were not authorized to discuss them.

Party Chairman Jim Brulte has made at least one personal appeal to the mayor during a face-to-face visit to San Diego.

On paper, the efforts make sense — Faulconer is the type of Republican that political observers believe has the best shot of winning statewide office in California. He’s a fiscal conservative and social moderate who is not viewed as an ideologue. He has distanced himself from Trump. He’s also the only GOP mayor leading one of the nation’s 10 largest cities, and was elected twice despite Democrats’ nearly 18-point voter registration edge in San Diego, evidence of his crossover appeal.

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