Sen. Rand Paul spent a few days in late May in uber-liberal California, raising money in Silicon Valley and talking his brand of libertarian Republican politics with the region's typically Democratic tech crowd.
On his way out of town, the Kentuckian filed an op-ed with FlashReport.org -- among California's best clearinghouses for conservative opinion and GOP news -- in which he offered Republicans advice for reasserting themselves and winning elections in the Golden State. Paul has been testing the waters for a potential 2016 presidential run, and this trip was another step toward that end.
As a native of Southern California and a veteran of the Sacramento press corps, I read with interest as Paul prescribed solutions for winning over a state that has become about as reliably liberal and Democratic as, say, Alabama has become reliably conservative and Republican.
A dozen years as a political reporter has taught me to be skeptical whenever any politician or political party claims it has cracked the code to flipping, or even moving, a congressional district or a state that has metastasized into a partisan stomping ground for one side or the other.
But Paul has proven wilier than many give him credit for, so rather than offer up my own analysis of the senator's take on California, I reached out to some of the smartest political operatives and analysts I know on Golden State politics, and asked them to offer their assessment. Here's what they had to say, edited only for brevity and clarity:
John Myers, political editor at News 10 (ABC) in Sacramento:
"Of all the states where this advice could be offered, none would find it harder to actually pull off than Republicans in California.
"Or put another way: if Republicans could pull off in California what the senator suggests, they would be on the way to a rout of Democrats rivaling Ronald Reagan's 49 state victory in 1984.
"That's about like the Powerball odds a couple of weeks ago.
"The California Republican Party hasn't won a statewide race of significance in almost 20 years. Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger won two races for governor - but he wasn't viewed by voters as a Republican, and he's probably more unpopular these days with state party leaders than even [Democratic Gov.] Jerry Brown.
"California's Republican Party really only has one weapon in its arsenal - opposition to taxes. And even that came up short in 2012 (Brown's Prop 30).
"On everything else - illegal immigration, social issues, even the role of government - the state party is an electoral bystander.
"The state party is trying to rebuild. But it's going to take several cycles, and that's only if their new leadership really does everything right, and Democrats make mistakes.
"Rand's column may help him raise money in California, but it's advice his fellow Republicans won't be able to easily take. The self-inflicted wounds can't heal if they keep on inflicting new ones."
Rob Stutzman, GOP political strategist based in Sacramento and former adviser to Arnold Schwarzenegger:
"I don't think he's that off: Environmental sensitivity, school reform (choice is wrong word). A libertarian approach to the Web is very popular in Silicon Valley and with its young employees.
"He's not the candidate but he's in the ballpark on the issues. ... The right candidate could [win on those issues, but] they need to be a social moderate."
Veteran California Republican operative, and former House aide who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly:
The most telling sign is that Paul frames the discussion of education in California to the words of a pastor in Kentucky. Sounds like the trap [former House Majority Leader] Tom Delay [R-Texas] fell in. Tom saw everything through the eyes of Sugarland, Texas. Sounds like Paul is trying to clothe California Republicans in a suit made out of Blue Grass. And even though Paul is trying to say that a fresh approach will appeal to Californians, his solutions are nothing more than the tired out old stuff that doesn't work here.
"Stopping off in the Silicon Valley in a pre-campaign appearance doesn't cut it. Paul's 'no compromise' political war cry will have little traction in California. No Republicans will be able to win statewide in California until a new generation of organically grown Republicans emerge with a message that resonates with ordinary citizens. California Republicans were the rugged idealistic individuals with a 'leave me alone' attitude in the 60s and 70s. We need to get our identity back, and that's not done by changing the message, but by believing in one.
"If Paul or any presidential hopeful was serious about California Republicans re-emerging they would have done better than by giving away six congressional districts that are locked-in for the next decade. You can't win statewide when your party only has 14 congressional seats out of a delegation of 53."
Dave Louden, former chief of staff to a Republican member of the California Legislature now working for a Washington, D.C., non-profit organization:
"Paul's point that I agree with the most is on education. He is absolutely right about 'academic genocide.' So many kids are victims of the teachers union and their wholly owned subsidiary, the California Democrats. The Sacramento Democrats are lackeys for the teachers union.
"It's about jobs, jobs, jobs. When Republicans run on jobs they win.
"Voter Registration is a huge chasm that will take years to fix. But taking on Democrats on issues vs. trying to legislate -- which Sacramento Republicans do -- and articulating a succinct message to voters will go a long way."