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California Republicans feud over party direction ahead of high-stakes recall

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OAKLAND — California Republicans finally have the Gov. Gavin Newsom recall election they've dreamed about, but an emerging dilemma could divide their ranks: whether to endorse one candidate.

Conservative activists charge that party leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and state GOP chair Jessica Millan Patterson, are maneuvering to direct party support toward former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who leads in polls and outside fundraising.

Never mind that Democrats love to circulate an Oval Office photo of Faulconer and former President Donald Trump. Conservatives say Faulconer is too moderate — and that party insiders are trying to co-opt the recall energy stemming from the base. Putting the party's weight behind Faulconer, they argue, would dampen Republican turnout and help Newsom survive the recall.

“The only difference between Gavin Newsom and Kevin Faulconer is that Faulconer doesn’t use gel on his hair," said Steve Frank, a longtime California conservative leader who unsuccessfully challenged Millan Patterson to lead the party last year.

Democrats have unprecedented control over California government, and no Republican has won a governor's race since Arnold Schwarzenegger's re-election 15 years ago. The party’s withering voter rolls — now down to 24 percent — have revealed consistent problems over the years.

Even in Schwarzenegger's time, the party was beset with internal strife between its conservative rank-and-file and state leaders who believed the path forward was to soften views on social issues and appeal to an ever more diverse California electorate.

Faulconer and his backers say that if ever there was a time to coalesce around a single candidate, it would be during the upcoming recall when Republicans may have their best chance to reclaim the governor's office. Newsom cannot directly face off against the replacement candidates, which gives Republicans hopes of taking the top office with a plurality........

© Politico

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