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California Republicans promote diverse slate of candidates for November, but will it matter?

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SACRAMENTO, California — The California Republican Party is promoting one of its most diverse, youthful sets of candidates in years for this November's election. The question heading into this weekend's state party convention is whether it will matter in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

Republicans face enormous disadvantages in fundraising, demographics, voter registration and political organization. In the race at the top of the ticket, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is seen as having a virtual lock on re-election. He has pushed liberals in the Legislature to the right of their comfort zone, simultaneously appealing to moderate Republicans and the growing slice of voters who are unaffiliated with any party.

Capturing even one statewide office remains a long shot, but Republicans at least hope to pick up some legislative seats by running moderate candidates.

In the statewide races, Republicans are pinning their hopes on Pete Peterson for secretary of state and Ashley Swearengin for controller, both of whom have polled within striking distance of Democrats.

They also are pointing to candidates such as Korean-American Young Kim, who is trying to unseat Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva in the 65th Assembly District, an Orange County seat Republicans lost two years ago, and Cuban emigrant Mario Guerra, who faces former Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, a Democrat, in the 32nd Senate District in the Los Angeles area. Most of the territory is in the current Senate district of Sen. Ron Calderon, a Democrat who was indicted earlier this year on federal corruption charges.

"They're making really large strides in this election to make sure that the candidates reflect the neighborhoods that they're running in," said Carson Bruno, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University who focuses on the California GOP. "The tricky part will be convincing other Californians the party is changing."

At the top of the ticket for Republicans this year is Neel Kashkari, a 41-year-old Indian-American who has sought to expand the party's base in his bid for governor by addressing income inequality, typically the purview of Democrats.

He has taken steps to mend fences with conservatives since coming in second in the June primary ahead of tea party favorite, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly.

But unlike previous conventions in gubernatorial election years, Kashkari was not given a prime speaking slot at the convention, which is being held at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. Instead, he is relegated to addressing party delegates on Sunday morning.

Kaitlyn MacGregor, a spokeswoman for the party, said organizers slotted Kashkari then because all the delegates will be present, unlike luncheons and dinners that require attendees to buy tickets.

"We think it's a great opportunity for him," she said.

The biggest draw for many Republicans will be Saturday's lunchtime address by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a prospective 2016 presidential candidate who has been traveling the country this year. Saturday night, California Republicans will hear from newly elevated House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, from Bakersfield.

The convention theme is "Reclaim California," and it will open with a Friday dinner featuring women of the Republican Party.

However, the night's keynote speaker, Swearengin, appears to have been distancing herself from other Republicans since advancing in the June primary. The Fresno mayor declined last month to endorse Kashkari's candidacy and has opted out of fundraising and speaking events with the rest of the statewide ticket.

Republicans see the best shot of advancing their agenda in reclaiming the so-called "super-minority" status in the state Assembly and Senate. They also hope to help Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives ahead of 2016.

Still, state Republicans have been pitching themselves as being on the verge of a comeback for several years, even as voter registration continued to slide. Republicans comprise 28.5 percent of California's electorate this year, compared to 43.5 percent for Democrats and 21 percent for independents.

In an email to supporters Thursday, former state party chairman Shawn Steel said the party really has evolved.

"In the heart of conservative Orange County, four Asian American women — all immigrants who've spent years involved in their community — are running in safe or competitive Republican districts," he wrote. "If the quartet runs the table, it will be the most dramatic demographic change in the party's elected leadership."

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