A conspiracy theorist might suspect that the boys running the California Republican Assembly (CRA) state convention in Buena Park this weekend wanted to slight U.S. Senate candidates Carly Fiorina and Tom Campbell. Irvine's ultra-conservative Chuck DeVore, who also wants to challenge incumbent Barbara Boxer, was allowed to speak minutes before 11 a.m. when the ninth-floor ballroom inside Knott's Berry Farm's Resort Hotel was packed with fresh attendees happily sipping on coffee. Tom Campbell--the openly more moderate of the candidates--got to address the group at mid-afternoon while everyone was digesting a heavy lunch of fried chicken, mixed vegetables and boysenberry pie. Otherwise, his declaration that he doesn't believe the state government should discriminate against gays and is pro choice surely would have been met with angry boos--not deafening silence.
And Fiorina? Well, after Campbell's speech, the clock ticked on and on and on. By no fault of her own, Fiorina got nowhere near the podium as the sun began to drop into the nearby Pacific Ocean. CRA management decided for whatever reason to spend hours debating mind-numbing amendments to the group's bylaws. At one point during an amendment debate, the moderator uttered with a straight face, "If you vote yes, you are voting no. Does everybody understand that?"
Few seemed to notice. In this--arguably the most patriotic, Ronald Reagan-loving crowd you can find in the state--many folks were busy taking seated naps, reading newspapers, thumbing their Blackberrys or chatting about the recent sex scandal that nailed another GOP political hypocrite who espoused anti-gay rhetoric but appreciated the views inside Sacramento gay bars.
One delegate seemed to sense that this Knott's Berry show had unnaturally stalled. He continually interrupted the riveting bylaws discussion with an increasingly frustrated bark: "What about the candidates? Let's hear from the remaining candidates!"
He was ignored.
(No surprise. I asked a CRA official, "Wouldn't it have been easier on the delegates to hear from each of the senate candidates consecutively?" The man looked at me with an empty stare and walked away.)
Six hours and 16 minutes after DeVore's presentation--and with a depleted, exhausted crowd--Fiorina was finally summoned to the stage. She wasted no time attacking DeVore. (I don't think she mentioned Campbell's name.)
A slim, fit Fiorina opened with a zinger. She observed that campaigning presents too many opportunities to gain weight by eating desserts at events, but noted she's on a special diet.
"I'm on the DeVore diet," she said, "which means that I eat dessert only when he's telling the truth about me."
Here's the rub: Fiorina and DeVore are elbowing each other for most conservative honors, which may not be wise in a California general election, but is the path to winning a valuable CRA endorsement. That nod is often a necessary stamp of approval for GOP primary voters.
In his morning speech, DeVore said he's been a CRA member for 22 years and has the group's 100 percent rating for his performance in the state assembly.
"Should you go with a liberal to moderate Republican in Tom Campbell?" he asked.
"Noooooo!" the crowd responded.
"Should you go with a chief advisor to John McCain during the presidential campaign?"
"Should you instead go with a proven conservative?"
DeVore then lumped Fiorina, Campbell and Democrat Boxer as allies on the Wall Street bailout, selection of U.S. Supreme Court justice and Don't ask, Don't tell.
The Irvine Republican, who is not wealthy, returned to Fiorina, who is.
"I submit to you that being right beats being rich every time," he said. "This is the year to beat the progressive left."
During his presentation, a more soft-spoken Campbell called himself "the most fiscal conservative" member of Congress when he served in the House of Representatives. Silent on his rivals, he saved his ammunition for President Barack Obama (his health care reform proposal is "outrageous") and Boxer. He said she's weak on military matters and has an inappropriate fondness for spending federal tax dollars.
"Economics have never been so important and I have a Ph. D in economics," said Campbell. "[Boxer's] one of the biggest spender in Congress. She's been there for 28 years. Please, we need a break."
Fiorina's eventual arrival at the podium somehow ushered into the ballroom more than a dozen, fresh young faces and the room came alive.
"I am a lifelong fiscal and social conservative," she declared in a hard cadence. "I'm proudly pro-life. Marriage is between a man and a woman. My husband owns lots of guns. I will defend the rights of the unborn and I will never turn my back on the values we hold so dear."
Aiming at Boxer--the top-ranking villain at the convention, Fiorina said, "She can protect fish all day but not the rights of the unborn!"
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The crowd agreed enthusiastically.
"This is a pivotal time," she said. "We must succeed in taking the government back from the likes of Barbara Boxer or I'm afraid we won't get another chance . . . She is dangerous, powerful and punitive. We must beat her."
CRA delegates vote on candidate endorsements on Sunday.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly