The mood at last weekend's California Republican Party convention was slightly more upbeat than it’s been for the last few years. But it wasn't, by and large, delusional.
Despite incessant grumbling, and polling data and registration figures that show the Grand Old Party may be headed for extinction in the Golden State, the party faithful should have been buoyant.
Delegates did seem pumped by President Barack Obama's slipping approval ratings in this Bluest of Blue States (where a recent Field Poll showed his ratings dropping below 50 percent for the first time).
One particularly giddy activist marched up to me and shouted, "We'll never have another Democratic President."
Delegates cheered significant GOP victories in two recent special elections.
One was in the predictably Republican 2nd Congressional District in Nevada, a state that Obama won handily in 2008, but in which the battered economy has sunk the President's approval ratings.
The other GOP victory came in NYC's 9th CD, which hadn't elected a Rep. in over 80 yrs.
Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, the event’s keynoter, bolstered morale telling the crowd, "I believe that 2012 will be a wave election that goes all across the United States and will even take in the Golden State." (Delegates seemed to like a lot that Bachmann said, but not so much the candidate; she finished fourth in the GOP’s straw poll.)
However, where it really counted, the California Republican Party seemed to be going through the motions.
There was the usual, every-two years’ talk from California’s GOP leaders about “voter outreach,” especially among Latinos.
But there’s been little movement on that so far and GOP activists showed no stomach for addressing the immigration divide that must be bridged before the GOP can woo back that burgeoning electorate.
Only four of the declared GOP Presidential candidates showed up—including Bachmann and Ron Paul (Paul, who was the rock star of the convention, came in first in the straw poll, thanks to a brigade of young followers).
But neither current front-runner Rick Perry nor erstwhile front-runner Mitt Romney showed up—even though Mitt was all over SoCal, hitting the money trail.
It was as if he’d Googled an alternate route around the state just to avoid facing the party faithful.
Perry supporters did show the flag with signs, an empty hospitality room and not much else. All that left some delegates grumbling—again—about California’s position at the end of the primary line.
Despite Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein’s slipping poll numbers, there was a dearth of potential GOP candidates beating the drums to challenge her in 2012—although California “birther” leader Orly Taitz told the Sacramento Bee she was “mulling” a challenge.
With dwindling electoral prospects and the advent of the top-two primary, the GOP state convention is clearly not where the action is. Incumbent lawmakers and even would-be candidates for the legislature and Congress seemed to be in short supply.
The only thing that truly seemed to get the juices flowing for many GOP activists is an intense hatred of President Obama, whom they seem to view as some kind of evil outlier who is out to steal their freedom and their wallets.
Moderate Republicans weren’t very happy with the weekend’s portents; but there weren’t very many of them around.
In the final hours of the convention, a move to adopt a more moderate party platform was defeated.
A long-time, moderate activist sighed, “I miss my party.”