Kevin McCarthy helps state GOP make a comeback

Apr 8, 2012

Written by Christine Bedell, Originally published in the Bakersfield Californian

Congressman Kevin McCarthy hopes to do for the state legislature what he did for the House of Representatives.

McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, has helped launch "California Trailblazers," a candidate recruitment and training program akin to the "Young Guns" initiative that helped the GOP wrest control of the House in 2010.

California's Republican Party desperately needs the help.

Not only are voters leaving the party but they've shut the GOP out of every statewide office and could elect a super majority of Democrats to the state Senate in November.

Republicans were also up a creek nationwide in 2006 when they lost their House
majority to the Democrats, McCarthy recently told state party conventioners. Time magazine asked, "Can the Republican Party ever be relevant again?" At a leadership meeting retreat, McCarthy said, one person in the room even suggested the party change its name.

But partly due to "Young Guns" -- the brainchild of McCarthy and Reps. Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor -- Republicans retook the House four years later.

"The idea is to replicate what the congressman was able to do at the national level at the state level," said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for Trailblazers.

Forty-two state Assembly and Senate candidates are enrolled in Trailblazers. They're given individualized benchmarks for such things as fundraising and volunteer organizing and if they meet them, they can rise up through three tiers of accomplishment: "Pathfinder," "Rising Star" and "Trailblazers."

Along the way, political mentors train them in fundraising, coalition building, media relations and other skills. Candidates who've proven their strength by rising up the ranks could see more financial support from election officials and other political donors.

"We're not trying to run races, we're trying to help candidates run better races," said Trailblazers CEO Jessica Millan Patterson, who was statewide field director for Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign and California deputy political director for Rudy Giuliani's presidential run.

California Trailblazers is open to any registered Republicans running for an open seat or a currently held Democratic seat, she said. It's not open to someone challenging an incumbent Republican.

McCarthy's role in Trailblazers now is limited. He showed state political leaders the structure of Young Guns, spoke at a training session and is an advisor, as are Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare and state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar.

McCarthy has no illusions that the GOP is going to quickly take control of the state Assembly or Senate. But he believes Trailblazers can in the short term win the party a few seats and convince more people to try for elected office.

"It's going to be tougher, but I believe Republicans can do better, the candidates can be better and the messaging could be better," McCarthy said.

Conway, who was born in Bakersfield and due to redistricting would represent the Kern River Valley if re-elected in November as expected, said her immediate goal is to recruit "the best candidates I can get" this year. Long term she'd like to leave behind a successful candidate recruitment and training program for future leaders to run with.

Conway can only serve two more years in the Assembly due to term limits.

She'd also like to see it expanded to involve county supervisor and other local-level candidates.

"We want to set up something that's ongoing, reliable, something people can count on to build a better bench," Conway said.

Asked how the Republicans ended up in such dire straits politically in California, Conway didn't want to go there.

"I don't want to do finger pointing," she said. "I want to correct it going forward."

Trailblazer enrollee Peter Tateishi is running in what he called one of six Assembly races that could swing either way. It's an open seat covering eastern Sacramento County. There are six candidates: one Democrat, four Republicans and one libertarian.

In Trailblazers Tateishi, chief of staff to Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, has learned how to fundraise, work with the media, build coalitions and conduct research, he said. He's had experience running city council, county board of supervisors and federal races but not state ones.

Tateishi said he's also well-versed in speaking for his boss, Lungren, but not for himself, which he called a totally different skill.

He's met several benchmarks met for him, including raising $40,000 by Dec. 31 and organizing volunteers and campaign materials. But he fell short on a more recent big one: amassing $125,000 by March 17. He's not sure what that means for his future in Trailblazers, which he thinks is a great idea.

"It's extremely exciting to see the party get organized," Tateishi said. "One of the things we've been lacking: We don't always recruit the best candidates and when we do, we need to make sure they understand the (election) process."

He said Young Guns not only got good candidates elected to the House but created a "camaraderie" that's helped them govern with a unified force.

"We've had over 80 freshman members and they're unified," he said. "They have a camaraderie; they have an existing relationship that's helped them with their message."