LOS ANGELES (AP) – The year was 1990 and Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson claimed his first term as California governor, replacing another Republican, George Deukmejian. Two years earlier, California voters helped send George H.W. Bush to the White House with a 3.6-point win over Democrat Michael Dukakis.
Nearly three decades later, so much has changed.
Democrats have monopolized California government, with the party holding every statewide office and dominating both chambers of the Legislature. Bush was the last Republican to win a presidential contest in the state. President Donald Trump lost California by over 4 million votes to Hillary Clinton.
Can the party that now accounts for just 1-in-4 state voters make a comeback? And if so, how?
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will take up that question again Wednesday at an event in Los Angeles organized by New Way California, a political committee eager to reshape the state GOP.
Schwarzenegger will be joined by another Republican centrist, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who was a Trump rival in the 2016 presidential campaign.
While a registered Republican, Schwarzenegger is known for his varied political stripes. As far back as 2007, in his second term as governor, he warned that the GOP was “dying at the box office” and needed to claim issues usually associated with the Democratic agenda, such as climate change and health care reform.
At the time, he said the GOP could win elections by “including, not excluding. By being open to new ideas.”
The effort to move the state party in a different direction comes at a time when Trump is the dominant figure in national Republican politics, and conservatives hold sway in Washington.
The former bodybuilder and actor has argued for years that Republicans are out of step with too many voters and need to move toward the political center to revive the party’s fortunes in the strongly Democratic state.
It’s often said the future happens first in California and, if so, the outlook is unsettling for Republicans.
California was once the home of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, but Republican influence in the state has been declining for years as a surge in immigrants transformed the state and its voting patterns.
The combined total of Hispanics, blacks and Asians has outnumbered whites since 1998. Hispanics, who lean Democratic, surpassed whites as the state’s largest racial or ethnic group in 2014.
California Republicans have bickered for years over what direction to turn – toward the political center or to the right.
“The old way isn’t working,” the group says on its website. “There’s a new way that Republicans can gain relevance in California once again.”
Party conservatives have long chaffed at moving away from what they see as bedrock values. In 2011, for example, Republican moderates pushed changes to the state GOP platform that avoided any mention of overturning Roe v. Wade, and dropped a demand to end virtually all federal and state benefits for people who entered the U.S. illegally. The proposal failed.
New Way California was formed by Republican Assemblyman Chad Mayes, who was ousted as the party’s Assembly leader after he worked with Democrats on climate change legislation.
“Republicans have failed to be able to reach out to average folks in California,” Mayes, of Yucca Valley, said in January. “They don’t think we care about them.”