If the California Republican Party is going to recover from its heavy losses in last fall's election, repair its fragile financial condition and regain relevance as a political party in one of the most reliably Democratic states in America, the journey back will begin Friday in Sacramento.
The party's three-day spring convention, aptly titled "Building Strong Foundations," will feature the election of a widely respected, nuts-and-bolts political hand, former Senate minority leader Jim Brulte, as its new chairman.
"We've got lots of work to do. That's a fact," said Ventura County Republican Central Committee Chairman Mike Osborn, who also is treasurer of the state party.
Last fall, Republicans lost four seats in the state's congressional delegation, saw Democrats take a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the Legislature and watched as President Barack Obama carried California by 23 percentage points. Additionally, the party's share of registered voters in the state dipped below 30 percent.
Osborn, who says he's known Brulte since working on his initial campaign for Assembly 27 years ago, believes the incoming chairman is exactly what the state GOP needs at this point in its history -- a pragmatic conservative who will be focused on rebuilding the party from the ground up, and an elder statesman who won't seek to use the position as a springboard to anything else.
He also believes Brulte will be someone who can bring together the disparate elements of the party.
"He understands that you never get everything you want, and he has a knack for getting people to understand that," Osborn said.
As treasurer, Osborn takes only slight issue with Brulte's pre-convention statement that the state GOP he will inherit is between $500,000 and $800,000 in debt.
Osborn calls that estimate a worst-case scenario, and believes the financial status is in somewhat better shape than that. "Under a worst possible, everything-goes-wrong condition, I suppose you could come up with that number," he said. "Jim wants to make sure he doesn't get accused of sugarcoating things. It's always best to prepare for the worst."
In the absence of any known, credible GOP candidates for governor in 2014, the highlight of the weekend convention will be a Saturday luncheon speech from national GOP operative Karl Rove, the former senior adviser to President George W. Bush.
Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads, spent $300 million on national elections last fall and, based on an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, received just a 1 percent return on its investment. In other words, nearly all its money was spent backing losing candidates, mostly Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Rove has since stirred a national tempest, drawing ire from tea party activists and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, by forming a new super PAC called the Conservative Victory Project. Rove says it will be designed to support what he considers to be more electable candidates in party primaries.
Osborn said he doesn't believe Rove's presence at the convention will create tension among the party factions in California.
"Karl likes to win," he said. "I'll give him credit for that."
A busload of delegates is expected to make the trip from Ventura County.
"I'm bringing the army," Osborn said, noting that several members of the Young Republicans will be among those attending from the county.
"I always like to bring the kids, to help get them fired up," he said. "We give them a proxy, let them vote, let them get involved."
Osborn said he is somewhat concerned that, 15 months before the 2014 gubernatorial primary, no credible Republican candidate has emerged to challenge Democrat Jerry Brown if, as expected, the incumbent runs for re-election.
He believes that such a candidate will be found, but acknowledges that he is concerned about the pattern the party has shown in the recent past.
After a 2010 campaign in which former eBay CEO Meg Whitman spent about $150 million in a losing effort, Osborn said the party ought to be looking for candidates based on some other criteria than personal wealth.
"It concerns me that the No. 1 prerequisite for our candidates is that they can self-fund their campaigns," he said.