A day after he folded his debt-riddled presidential campaign, Pete Wilson headed to the California Republican Party’s fall convention in what clearly was a peace mission.
In a last-minute scheduling change that caught state party officials by surprise, Wilson appeared before 150 members of county Republican committees. They have been among Wilson’s most vocal critics, upset that the California governor’s political hopes could leave the state in the hands of a Democratic lieutenant governor.
He made a plea for party unity, suggested he would focus on state problems during the remaining three years of his second term and said California remains critical in next year’s presidential race.
“Anyone’s recipe for political victory,” he said, shows that “essentially you can’t win without California.” He was interrupted repeatedly with stormy applause.
“There was a sense of relief that the campaign is over,” said Keith Skane, a member of the San Diego GOP committee. “I think the sky is a lot brighter now. Now he’s got to show that he can do it, that he will go out and campaign for Republican candidates.”
Wilson, who promised last year that he would not seek the White House, upset the GOP faithful when he decided to run because that meant Lt. Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, could become governor.
Davis’ office said the lieutenant governor already has served 96 days as governor since Jan. 1 - mostly because of Wilson’s out-of-state campaigning.
Wilson, once considered a moderate, has moved steadily to the right on such issues as immigration and crime. Conservatives wonder if he will move back again now that his presidential bid is history.