SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Hurting California Republicans chose a party insider Sunday to lead them forward after their party suffered stinging defeats in 2018, rejecting two candidates backed by activists who favored a stronger embrace of President Donald Trump.
The California Republican Party's delegates had to decide where the party would go next with its leadership, and a majority of about 1,200 delegates chose Jessica Patterson, who previously headed a Republican candidate recruitment and training program.
Trump's election fueled what was already a downward slide for California's Republicans, who have not won statewide office since 2006 and rank as third party status in voter registration behind Democrats and independents.
The 2018 election pushed the party further toward the brink of extinction in the nation's most populous state, with Democrats flipping seven U.S. House seats once considered GOP strongholds and Republicans holding less than a quarter of state legislative seats.
Patterson argued bringing the Republican message into new communities would be the key to success and said she would push candidates to focus on California issues rather than the president's message.
Her two rivals, former state Assemblyman Travis Allen and party activist Steve Frank, said energizing the party base that loves Trump was the key to success. Both are strident backers of the president.
But Patterson had the backing of most elected officials, including top Trump supporters like U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. She was viewed as the candidate better prepared to raise money and do the grunt work required of a chair.
"Let's serve notice to the Democrats in California that we are back and we are ready to deliver on the Republican comeback," Patterson said after winning. "Then let's dig in and make it happen."
Her opponents argued she represents more of the same leadership that led the party into decline. Both charged the state party has not advocated for strong conservative values and shied away from full-throated Trump support. Allen came in second and Frank placed third.
"California Republicans are every bit as Republican as Republicans across the country," Allen said in an interview last week. "It's about time we have a Republican party that stands for our values, our ideals and supports our Republican president."
After the vote, Allen said only that he hopes "the Republican party starts fighting again for the good of all Californians."
Patterson said prior to the election she supports Trump. Beyond McCarthy, she had the backing of key Trump supporters such as U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes and the state's two Republican National Committee members.
But some of Trump's most fervent California supporters were disappointed by the outcome. Stephanie Sporcich, a teacher, said she got involved with the state party because of Trump's election. She cast her vote for Allen, and saw the chairmanship race as a battle between the grassroots and the establishment.
"We're the ones that are the strongest Trump supporters with Trump values," she said, adding she and other new activists have already successfully infiltrated the party structure and will keep working to do so.
But Elizabeth Patock, another teacher, liked Patterson's focused on bringing "non-traditional Republicans" into the party. Patock did not vote for Trump and said she dislikes how ugly national politics have become.
She said Patterson "has a positive message."
Patterson is the first Latina to lead the state party. She did not make her personal heritage a major piece of her campaign, but said the party needs to use "new messengers."
California Republicans have struggled to appeal to the state's growing Latino and Hispanic population because of the party's position on immigration, among other things. Patterson did not provide specifics Sunday on how she will deal with that issue.
As a gesture of goodwill, she named Frank and Allen as co-chairs of a voter registration committee. Both had highlighted the party's outsourcing of voter registration activities as a major flaw. And she called for unity among California Republicans.
"Our success will be a team effort, no egos, no personal agenda, no drama," she said. "We're going to be about one thing: Winning."
This version corrects that Patterson received just over half of the votes from 1,200 delegates, not support from more than 1,200 delegates.