The cloud of dread and hopelessness that has hung over the California Republican Party convention was blown away at noon today as Republican Ron Paul supporters stormed the Hyatt in Burlingame and raised the atrium with cheers of wild enthusiasm.
The Paul rally briefly injected exuberance into a funereal convention being held by a failed and dying state party. Throughout the morning, Republicans had grumbled about the dim prospects for the party at the local, state and national levels.
Though the state party leadership is trying to focus voters on one or two unifying issues in this vast state of 34 million people, local party officials note that the California Republican Party does not have the infrastructure to run a statewide campaign. Tim Holabird, a director for the Lassen County GOP, noted that his Republicans are facing far different issues than those of Los Angeles and San Francisco or even the Central Valley (which is where the very faint voice of the California Republican Party can be heard best – usually complaining about the shortage of government-subsidized water).
Nor has there been much optimism about candidates at the top of the ticket. Though one CAGOP staffer said all the presidential candidates had been invited, only Newt Gingrich accepted. During lunch today, Gingrich and failed presidential candidate Herman Cain both bombed as speakers, getting only sporadic applause, polite laughter, and a brief, unsuccessful attempt at a "Newt Newt Newt" chant.
Gingrich's unfresh face had until this afternoon been the only emblem of the California GOP's dismal future. Convention attendees griped about the lack of young Republicans, the party's low voter registration, their own inability to loosen the Democrats' grip on every level of power, and the lack of enthusiasm generated by any of the party's candidates.
Meanwhile, the party's hostility to freedom-oriented politics was best embodied by attendee Craig Newton, a retired prison guard on full pension who told this reporter he'd like to "punch" a Ron Paul supporter or a Democrat "in the face."
That came to a ringing stop with the Ron Paul rally, which was the weekend's first sign of life. Paul supporters took over the main display area at the hotel, and crammed into balconies and stairways.
Rick Williams, a West Hollywood candidate for Diane Feinstein's Senate seat, led chants of "End the Fed" and "Nobody But Paul," but the local libertarian movement was the real driving force behind the occupation, which was quickly dispersed by police and hotel security.
Other conventioneers I spoke with disdained the Paul supporters. Several offered verbal support for the police as the Paul supporters were removed. But all acknowledged that this was the first evidence of true enthusiasm of the weekend. Although the regular conventioneers accused the Paul supporters of being outsiders, most of the ones I spoke with were registered Republicans and in some cases active party members. Marcus Negron, a Santa Cruz GOP central committee member, claimed to have worked for the Republican Party for 20 years, and Williams is a registered candidate in the Senate primary. (He is not the party favorite; that title belongs to Elizabeth Emken, whom the state GOP considers its best weapon against the formidable DiFi.)
After about half an hour, police removed the Paul supporters to the front of the hotel. There, under the leadership of San Francisco Libertarian Starchild, a remnant of Paul fans marched to the 101 Freeway. Paul supporters will be holding events throughout the convention.