GOP Day 2: The Breakup

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SANTA CLARA -- Leave it to Tom McClintock, long the favorite son of the California Republican Party, to say what only others hinted about all weekend.

Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Heck, what they'd hinted about all year.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, we're breaking up with you.

Granted, the freshman congressman and former longtime state legislator threw his punch via video from Washington, D.C. and did so at the expense of one of the current gubernatorial wannabes.

But at least he said it; and when he did, the room erupted in applause. It probably helps when the guy isn't there -- which he wasn't.

More broadly, though, day two of the 2010 winter GOP confab was full of candidates proving their mettle -- either on the issues or in terms of electability. With the first day largely dominated by the media coming out party of Meg Whitman, Saturday was a whirlwind of candidates speaking to delegates and reporters, highlighted by the trio of Republicans vying to take on U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in November and by gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner's big speech to the party faithful.

Boxer was the favorite Democrat punching bag of the day; or maybe that should be a punching balloon -- as in a large, hot air balloon resembling the disembodied head of the state's junior senator in another eerie video from the campaign of Carly Fiorina.

The video mocks Boxer as having an "elitist self image" and flips halfway to a feel-good rags-to-riches story about Fiorina. Its debut was followed at lunchtime by Fiorina doing an Oprah, theater-in-the-round presentation that drew a lot of applause for its red meat Republican standards: cut government spending, keep Guantanamo Bay open, scrap the current health care bill, oppose abortion.

The GOP faithful received a lot of red meat today on issues like smaller government and dangerous Democrats; even the often courtly Tom Campbell joined in tonight by lamenting the current wave of what he called "soft socialism."

But it seemed that the politician most conspicuously absent was the most notable target of the day. In many cases, the dosage of anti-Schwarzenegger was small. Example: at the afternoon rally for supporters of the Tea Party Movement, California GOP chairman Ron Nehring said this: "It is never acceptable to raise taxes in a down economy, because it destroys jobs."

And who was the last top politician to sign a tax increase into law in California? Hmmm...

Later, in a press conference supporting Whitman, anti-tax advocate Jon Coupal got his own dig in at Schwarzenegger, the candidate he and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association actually vouched for in 2003 and again in 2006.

This time, though, Coupal compared Whitman's negotiating skills as a would-be chief executive to the incumbent with a reference to a particularly memorable Schwarzenegger moment: "I don't think you're ever going to hear Meg Whitman call anyone a 'girlie man'."

But the la pièce de résistance came from McClintock, who never seemed very good in his Sacramento days at masking his displeasure with the celebrity governor (a fundraiser buddy buddy moment in 2004 notwithstanding).

Perhaps with a nod the governor's famous plea to the state party to broaden its appeal, the conservative's conservative said, "I've heard some Republicans say we need to rebrand our party. We don't need to rebrand our principles. We need to return to them."

And, then, the swing at Whitman (McClintock has endorsed Poizner) that struck an Austrian oak: "We can't afford to offer California Arnold Schwarzenegger's third term."

The crowd roared its approval. Off with his head! Or something like that.

John Myers, KQED

Photo: John Myers, KQED

Then again, maybe the lowest person on the totem pole of pols is the guy featured here.
Both the Whitman and Poizner camps were handing out these clever little items conveniently trying to link the other to -- gasp -- Al Gore.

Al Gore? Okay, Guv, you're out of the doghouse.

[NOTE: That does it for reports from GOPapalooza, as I'm heading back to Sacramento for a day off before Monday's GOP gubernatorial debate in Costa Mesa. Listen for a radio wrapup of the convention Monday morning on The California Report.]

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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