SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- GOP strategist Karl Rove may be an unpopular figure among Republican volunteers, especially after launching a drive this year that tea party activists considered an attack on their brand of grassroots conservatism.
But given how far the California Republican Party has fallen, some participants at this weekend's convention in Sacramento say they need to take advice from anybody they can.
"The Republican Party in California is in a challenging time, and we'll take all the help we can get," said Jon Fleischman, a state party leader and conservative blogger.
Rove is the big-name speaker at the three-day affair that begins today at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento. More than five years since leaving former President George W. Bush's White House, the strategist continues to draw attention after launching the Conservative Victory Project in February, an effort designed to help "electable" Republicans win U.S. Senate seats next year.
Facing criticism over Republican losses last year in races in which his political action committee invested, Rove's latest move appears to cast blame on candidates whose gaffes drew attention to GOP positions on divisive issues such as abortion.
Most notably, Rove's group seemed to point the finger at failed Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, whose reference to "legitimate rape" in a television program impeded Republican efforts last year.
In an interview with Fox News in February, Rove said that "our donors say to us, 'Look, we don't mind giving money, but why are we backing candidates like Akin?' "
Rove said his goal with the new political action committee is to find the "most conservative candidate who can win." He insisted, "This is not tea party versus establishment."
Nonetheless, his new group has sparked concern among grass-roots Republicans and tea party officials, who fear Rove espouses an establishment view that the path to victory involves candidates with more moderate views.
The national conversation is particularly applicable to California Republicans, who find themselves without a statewide officeholder and have ceded two-thirds control of the Legislature to Democrats.
"Karl is no stranger to controversy, and his high-profile statements going into the convention mean I'm sure he'll have a lot of conversations with the party about what he's trying to do," said Jon Fleischman, a conservative blogger who has served in party leadership positions. "The Republican Party in California is in a challenging time, and we'll take all the help we can get."
Sal Russo, the Sacramento consultant who founded Tea Party Express, said the initial rollout of the Conservative Victory Project was disconcerting but that he had no problems with Rove's later description of the effort.
"For Republicans to be successful, they've got to have a broad coalition that includes people active in grass-roots ways like the tea party, as well as more establishment figures like Karl Rove," Russo said.
In the last report in October, Republicans accounted for 29.4 percent of registered California voters, compared with Democrats' 43.7 percent. Adding to those woes, the party faces a debt as large as $800,000, according to Jim Brulte, a Capitol operative and former inland Southern California lawmaker who stands as the prohibitive favorite to become state party chairman this weekend.
Several Republicans said Rove will speak at the convention's Saturday luncheon as a favor to longtime friend Brulte, who hopes to use this weekend as his springboard to reverse the party's slide in California. Rove's appearance may not mean much beyond that, as he appears focused on 2014 Senate races, none of which will occur in California.