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State GOP chief vows to move party beyond its 'comfort zone'

April 8, 2011 |  9:10 am

The new chairman of the California Republican Party set out on his 20-city tour this week, pledging to reverse his party’s course by attempting to reach out to voters beyond the party’s “comfort zone.”

Tom Del Beccaro, who is grappling with a plunge in party registration and stinging losses, also said he would try to defeat Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to extend tax hikes to solve the state’s budget crisis.  

Del Beccaro’s first “town-hall”-style session Thursday night in Fresno with Assemblyman David G. Valadao (R-Hanford), former congressional candidate Andy Vidak and others, served largely as a brainstorming session about broadening the party’s reach, particularly among Latinos, who make up an ever-growing share of the state’s electorate.

Though the Central Valley has long been the heartland for Republican votes in California, Del Beccaro said he stopped in Fresno first because it represents the “face of what’s gone wrong with government policy in California” with its high unemployment and home foreclosure rates

Over more than an hour, Vidak, Valadao and others shared stories about their difficulties courting Latino voters on the campaign trail, where the thorny issue of immigration has been a major stumbling block for their party.

Valadao, a dairy farmer whose parents were Portuguese immigrants, said that even though he speaks Portuguese and some Spanish, the response from some Latino voters after learning he was a Republican was: “Get off my property.”

“We’ve got a lot to overcome,” Valadao told the more than 60 voters who gathered Thursday evening at Pardini’s in Fresno.

Vidak, a cherry farmer who sought to unseat Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), said he actively courted Latinos by going to events where they would not have expected to see a Republican.

“We’ve got a good story as conservatives,” said Vidak, who ultimately lost to Costa by a margin of 3.6%. “You just tell your story and you don’t preach.”

Del Beccaro fielded a question from an audience member who asked whether the party should be talking about its platform on issues like gay marriage and abortion, areas where some more conservative Latino voters might be inclined to agree with them.

The new chairman said he believed the party should focus on economic issues in the near term, namely Brown’s push to solve the remaining $15-billion deficit by extending temporary income, sales and vehicle taxes. 

“The road back for minority parties is to have a very focused, narrow agenda at the beginning,” Del Beccaro said, adding  the party had “a muddled message in the last four years.”

“If you try to chase too many rabbits at once or try to put your arms around too large a constituency, the minority party doesn’t succeed,” he said. “We need to get some success behind us, and the opportunity for our success and to build this momentum is going to be to defeat these taxes, because it’s bad economics.”

Del Beccaro, a Lafayette attorney, spoke to Fresno voters on the eve of Brown’s state tour to build support for a proposal to put those tax extensions on the ballot.

Lawmakers have approved cuts addressing $11.2 billion of the estimated $26-billion deficit. But Brown was unable to win Republican support for his plan to place the tax extensions on a special June ballot.

Brown has pledged not to give up in his quest and has warned the next round of cuts will be “much more painful” and “much more disruptive” than the first set.

He plans to make his case starting Friday as he appeals directly to voters in Riverside and again Saturday in Orange County.

-- Maeve Reston in Fresno

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