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California Republicans Select First Woman to Chair State Party

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Political consultant Jessica Patterson was elected in February 2019 as the new chair of the California Republican Party. (Katie Orr/KQED)

Back on its heels after the November elections, the California Republican Party has elected a Latina to become the new state party chair in hopes of steering a new direction for the party with a younger leader who might be more appealing to women voters.

Political consultant Jessica Patterson, 38, defeated two more conservative male candidates who teamed up in an effort to stop her from becoming chair.

Heading into the vote, the convention crowd was tense, and the race was considered close between Patterson, former Assemblyman and candidate for governor Travis Allen, and longtime party member Steve Frank.

But within minutes the results became clear with Patterson, the choice of many party moderates, elected with nearly 55 percent of the vote with help from party leaders including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from Bakersfield.

In her acceptance speech, Patterson said she has one main goal — beating Democrats, who she described as "the enemy."


“We're going to take the fight to Democrats," she said. "We're going to fight them in the press, at community gatherings, and we're going to fight them in the precincts, and we're going to beat them in elections.”

Patterson has her work cut out for her. She takes over a party with declining registration numbers, a slew of recent election losses, dismal ratings from Latino and Asian-American voters and a Republican president who is deeply unpopular in California.

But Patterson said she’s ready to deliver a GOP comeback in the state. As one of her first acts, she invited her challengers Allen and Frank to head up the party's registration task force.

"It is so clear, your love and passion and commitment to our party," she said to them in her speech. "I want to bring our party together, and I think this is just the first step in that."

Allen and Frank did not immediately comment on whether they would accept the offer. The two had agreed to support each other in an effort to prevent Patterson from winning.

The campaign for chair was a contentious one with a lot of the negative rhetoric targeted at Patterson, the most moderate candidate. After being officially nominated to run for chair on Saturday, she encouraged delegates to focus on what she called the real threat — Democrats in the state Capitol.

"The enemy is about 500 yards away over in that white building where every single day they are trying to take away our freedom, our liberty, and they are trying to tax everything that is out there," she said.

While Patterson kept a relatively low profile at the convention, former Assemblyman Allen campaigned with gusto. He said the state party’s tendency to back moderate candidates for office has backfired, and he pointed to the November elections as proof.

"We had the worst results in a governor’s race since 1978. We had the worst congressional results since 1883. We have no statewide elected Republicans. We have mega-minorities in both houses of the state Legislature,” Allen said.

But the party chose to go with the more moderate Patterson. Speaking briefly to reporters after the convention, she said one of her immediate priorities as chair will be recruiting candidates up and down the state ahead of the March 2020 primary. She wouldn't say whether she'll be inviting President Trump to campaign in California.

Patterson's predecessor Jim Brulte said the outcome of the election was great.

"We have a new board of directors, it's eager, it's ready to go," he said. "And the battle for 2020 begins today."

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