BURLINGAME, Calif. — Leaders of the California Republican Party acknowledge they must broaden their appeal to Asians, Hispanics, young voters and women to ensure relevancy for a party that has been losing registration and elections at a fast clip in recent years.
Republicans were trying to showcase their progress in wooing those groups Saturday, the busiest day of the party's weekend convention in Burlingame. They hosted events aimed at expanding their voter base, despite a lineup of official speakers that seemed to reinforce the stereotype of a party dominated by older whites.
Turning around its fortunes will not be easy for a party that is 80 percent white in a state where whites are not a majority of the population. The fastest-growing segment of the electorate is not aligned with any party.
The party's registration is now less than a third of California voters. Republicans lost the election for every statewide office in 2010 and is in danger of losing even more seats this year in the Legislation and among California's congressional delegation.
The declining fortunes of California Republicans prompted GOP strategist Jeff Randle to write an opinion piece earlier this month in which he said the party is alienating moderate and independent voters by "collapsing into a narrowly defined ideological corner."
Overall voter registration in California is about 64 percent white, non-Hispanic, 22 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Asian and 6 percent black. Republican Party registration is about 80 percent white, 13 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian and 1 percent black, according to the Field Poll. The secretary of state's office does not compile data on the ethnicity of voters.
By comparison, nearly a third of California Democrats are Hispanic.
One of the biggest hurdles for the GOP in attracting Hispanic voters is immigration. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield acknowledged that the party will have to tackle the issue, including the heated debate over whether to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants who are already in the United States.
"I think the party's going to have to find a way to address this issue to be able to grow," he said in response to a reporter's question Friday night.
"If we ever want to become the majority, we have to be able to bring a larger number of Latinos in, a larger number of the Asian population into the Republican Party. And in my belief, our philosophy is right" for attracting them, McCarthy said.
Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro has held town hall meetings around the state since he took the helm last year in an effort to boost outreach. He said this weekend's town halls are intended to showcase the success of those.
But a morning session that was introduced as an opportunity for Republican elected officials to learn about Asian-American issues and how to better talk with them was short on ideas. Instead, a parade of local elected Asian Republicans introduced themselves to a crowd of about 60.
Mostly they talked about why they are Republican, focusing on economic issues and their desire to reduce government regulations. Like Del Beccaro, several said the key to Republican success will be focusing on state spending and the economy while steering away from divisive social issues.
Virginia Chang Kiraly, director of the Menlo Park Fire protection district, said fiscal responsibility is "an issue we can win on."
"It is true that education and hard work are Asian values, but so is discipline, and that includes financial discipline," she said.
The party's Saturday lineup also included speeches by a current GOP presidential hopeful, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and two former candidates, pizza magnate Herman Cain and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.