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Despite internal differences, local GOP sets aggressive recruiting agenda

Joe Solis picked up his marbles and went home.

Shortly after Solis lost the race for Bexar County party chairman to Richard Langlois last year, he launched the South Texas Republicans Political Action Committee, a grassroots effort to recruit more Latina party members and win more seats.

Enter the formal party apparatus, the Bexar County Republican Party, whose goal is the same, but with a strategy of appealing first to its conservative base.

Joe Solis lost the race for Bexar County Republican Chairman, but started a political action committee that is targeting Latinas as the new constituency for the GOP. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

While the GOP tries to target new constituents, especially the Latina vote, and maintain its loyal following, there remains a delicate tension - between Solis' PAC and the official county party, between social conservatives and moderate Republicans. How the factions navigate that tension, while convincing voters it represents their vision of the future, will figure in the party's success.

"We're not recognized by `the county party`," says Solis, who sends a regular e-mail newsletter to current and potential party and PAC members. "They tolerate us."

"We support anybody who wants to elect Republican candidates and spreads the word," retorts Steve Heinrich, Bexar County Republican Party communications director. "Maybe he needs to do a better job of letting us know about his events."

This semi-civil detente embodies a larger division within the party between social conservatives who oppose abortion and support prayer in school, and moderates, many of whom care more about a pro-business agenda of corporate tax breaks than faith-based initiatives.

Recently, party politics played out on a statewide stage when U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison reversed course, announcing she would not run against incumbent Rick Perry for governor in 2006.

"It was sensitive," Solis says. "Maybe she knew this would possibly open a huge schism and what we have now works. It's very possible that a person may have said, We understand your long-term goals, but let's go through this other door."

Heinrich adds: "I think it was a decision that Kay had to make best for her, her family, for the party and the issues. It was a very complex issue for her, and she decided to remain in the Senate and exert her leadership there."

Balancing these competing interests, says Solis, "is a challenge because they're all under our umbrella. But I think moderate Republicans and social conservatives have been able to hold hands without having to fall in love with each other."

"Unless you have a monolithic party, you'll have factions," Heinrich explains. "We welcome that open discussion. At one time there was an acrimonious division between social conservatives and mainstream, but we've gotten beyond that. So many of the social conservatives have stayed active long enough to learn the political process. And the mainstream has worked with them to know they don't have horns and tails. We can disagree without being disagreeable."

While the county party is focused on solidifying its base, the South Texas Republicans PAC is recruiting swing and hard-line Republican voters in Stone Oak and northern Bexar County beyond Loop 1604. In general, they are wealthy and consistent voters. "It's very important to mobilize them," Solis says.

Yet Heinrich says that working- and middle-class voters have swung to the GOP, citing that President Bush won 55 percent of the Bexar County vote last November. "The media would like us to believe we're all rich country clubbers, but we had people in the office from all parts of town.

"In San Antonio, we have a tremendous number of minorities who are no longer living in Victoria Courts, who are perfectly joined with the middle class and seeing life through the same prism as others."

Minorities, specifically Latinas, Solis says, are the GOP's target, with a recruiting goal of at least 1 million Hispanic women over the next two years. Many of them are Roman Catholic or Christian, Solis says, and the Republicans' socially conservative platform could appeal to them. "If they are owned by one group, in the long run they are taken for granted," he says.

"By 2010, if Republicans and conservatives don't win over Democrats and non-traditional voters, the power shifts to the other side and that's significant."

The GOP wants Latinas to have a political choice, even if not a reproductive-rights one.

"What we do to win over that Latina vote will have huge implications," Solis says. "By 2010, if Republicans and conservatives don't win over Democrats and non-traditional voters, the power shifts to the other side and that's significant."

For the 2006 races, the local GOP's strategy is to claim as many judicial seats as possible, including those at the district and county level. The party also wants to keep former San Antonio state representative Elizabeth Ames Jones, whom Governor Perry appointed to the Railroad Commission, on that board.

Although few Democratic legislative incumbents are vulnerable, Heinrich says the county party plans to pursue a statehouse seat. Bexar County Republicans currently have just three in the legislature: Frank Corte, who consistently sponsors anti-abortion legislation and newly elected Joe Straus III in the House and Jeff Wentworth, who toes a pro-business line, in the Senate. "That is an unfair representation and a result of malicious redistricting," Heinrich says, dismissing Democrats' complaint that the GOP, through the political maneuvering of U.S. Representative Tom DeLay, are the redistricting villians.

"For years, Democrats have carefully drawn the districts and finally the moment came when they couldn't cheat us anymore and they have apoplexy over it. I don't think the Bexar County delegation is reflective of the people."

Although Bush won more than half the vote last year, San Antonio is still known as a Democratic city. "It's a lonely battle at times, but conservatives want to have a voice," Solis says. "If they feel like they have nothing worth fighting for, they stay home."

By Lisa Sorg

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