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Rove Tells Calif. GOP To 'Get Back In The Game'

Karl Rove had a sharp message to California's Republican Party Saturday. He implored party leaders to "get up off the mat" and work to revitalize the state GOP. Republicans hold no statewide offices in California and have given up a supermajority to Democrats in the state legislature.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In California yesterday, Republican strategist Karl Rove issued a blunt message to the state GOP spring convention. He said it's time for Golden State Republicans to recreate their party by finding new talent that appeals to a broader electorate. As NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, the advice comes as the party faces a host of problems.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: It's not easy being a California Republican these days. No Republican holds a statewide office. Democrats enjoy two-thirds majorities in both houses of the state legislature. The state GOP is a half-million dollars in debt. And less than 30 percent of California voters are registered Republican. So, what's a party to do? Enter Karl Rove.

KARL ROVE: My message is this: get off your ass. Get back in the game.

(LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE)

ROVE: Get back in the game and fight. Don't give in to what the other side wants.

GONZALES: The other side is the Obama White House, and what it wants, says Rove, is to encourage a civil war within the GOP, to keep it off-balance and dispirited.

ROVE: Losing has one great benefit to it: It gives you a chance to start fresh, to look at everything anew and start rebuilding from the ground up.

GONZALES: Rove didn't mention issues such as immigration and same-sex marriage, where the GOP finds itself at odds internally and with majority opinion in California. Instead, he urged the party to go out and aggressively sell the Republican values of limited government, lower taxes and personal responsibility to a new generation of voters.

ROVE: We've been comfortable talking to each other and looking for, you know, sort of where is the one thing we can win, where's the race that we can get? We've got a broader obligation than that. And we need to have the diversity that is America. And if we do we'll have success.

GONZALES: It's no secret that Latinos will soon be the majority ethnic group in California and that the GOP has to capture at least some of those voters if it ever hopes to regain its footing. So, the party has tapped a former Bush White House official, Ruben Barrales, to lead a new effort called Grow Elect. Its objective is to plant the Republican flag in California's Latino community by developing talent at the grassroots.

(APPLAUSE)

RUBEN BARRALES: We need to provide Latino voters Republican candidates who are from their neighborhoods. And we need to build a farm team, a bench of Republican elected officials who can win in an increasingly diverse California.

GONZALES: But for all the talk of inclusion, you could see the divisions within in the Republican Party just by looking around the room. In the back of the ballroom sat a group of Tea Party stalwarts. Dressed in red T-shirts, they said they were staging a protest against what they see as Rove's disrespect for the Tea Party. Elaine Miles is a retired state worker.

ELAINE MILES: The Republican Party came out and basically pushed back against the Tea Party. And I think it was a mistake, and I think they realize part of those mistakes now. But without the grassroots, they're not going to recover.

GONZALES: As the California Republican Party tries to get back on its feet, it will have to find some way of mediating the differences between those who represent its base of old and those who say the party needs new blood and a new direction. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, Sacramento.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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