Gallery: Inland Empire legislator Jim Brulte
Former state Sen. Jim Brulte appears to have a green light to be the California Republican Party's next leader while the party attempts to rebuild from its weakest position in many years.
"I think that Jim Brulte's candidacy has been embraced by all of the parts of the party," said Jon Fleischman, a Republican political consultant who runs the influential FlashReport blog.
Brulte himself has not formally announced his candidacy for the party chairmanship. He declined to speak for this report.
The Republican party's current vice chairman is Steven Baric, an attorney and a Rancho Santa Margarita councilman. Baric could not be reached for comment, but Fleischman and others have reported Baric will not seek the party's top post.
Nonetheless, Brulte's interest in the job is no secret to Republicans in and out of elected office.
Fleischman endorsed Brulte's as-yet-unofficial candidacy in a Tuesday posting on FlashReport, and Assemblyman Curt Hagman said Brulte has been gathering support as California Republicans prepare for their convention in Sacramento starting March 1.
The next chairman of the Republican Party will take leadership at a time when Republicans' influence in California is at its lowest ebb in recent memory.
Democrats hold vetoproof supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature.
Brulte opened the Inland Empire office of California Strategies, a lobbying and
public-affairs firm, in 2005 after leaving office.
As a legislator, Brulte had a reputation as a determined advocate for conservative policies and GOP interests, but he or any other chairman will face the immediate challenge of rebuilding the party's appeal in the state after years of decline.
"His voting record is strongly conservative, but he also knows how to reach out to moderates and Democrats," Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney said.
A key task will be to promote the GOP's views among increasingly vital Latino and Asian- American constituencies.
"What the party needs is somebody who knows how to message without the implication that this is a `white male' message, and I think Brulte knows how to do that," said Robert Rego, the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party.
Brulte's experience representing a diverse constituency in the Inland Empire should help him promote the Republican Party across demographic lines, said Luis Alvarado, a Republican consultant who is also president of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Greater Los Angeles.
"I have not heard a single person tell me that they would be opposed to him as a leader," Alvarado said.
Brulte supporters also credited him as an intelligent strategist who was a key party leader the last time Republicans had a majority in the Assembly.
"What I know is he is a great strategic thinker and he knows how to hire people to execute the tactics of that strategy," said Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga.
Brulte's record shows he can be a tough partisan, perhaps even aggressively so. In 2003, while still in the state Senate, Brulte threatened to campaign against any Republican who voted for tax increases.
Fleischman also credited Brulte with maintaining the Republican Party's control of the Assembly in 1995 by leading recalls against two Southern California legislators, Paul Horcher and Doris Allen, who dared to cross party lines and work with Democratic leader Willie Brown.
Yet supporters of Brulte's prospective leadership of the state Republican Party also say the former legislator is the ideal candidate to reach out to moderates and even Democrats as the GOP attempts to regain competitiveness.
"He builds coalitions very well," said Hagman, R-Chino Hills, saying the state GOP can accept internal debates between moderates and more conservative members, such as those aligned with the Tea Party movement.
"I hope that the Republicans have learned that, just like in any other organization, there are going to be different views," he said.
Brulte has generally avoided controversy after leaving office, although FBI and IRS agents raided his home and office in 2011 as part of the broad corruption probe related to the $102 million settlement between Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP and San Bernardino County.
Brulte has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and Hagman does not expect the raid to lead to any future legal issues for Brulte.
"There's no allegations. It's just part of the due diligence of the investigation," Hagman said.