Rumors abound that there will be a post-primary revolt in the Ventura County Republican Central Committee, with a move afoot to oust five-year party chairwoman Leslie Cornejo as payback for her endorsement of challenger Michael Tenenbaum over 10-term incumbent Elton Gallegly in the 24th Congressional District GOP primary.
Cornejo's tenure has brought an era of stability and professionalism to a party committee that had been previously wrought with ideological strife and power struggles between social conservatives and moderates. Cornejo, from the moderate wing, has managed to move the central committee beyond ideology and allowed it to regain its focus on the nuts-and-bolts of electoral politics: raising money, organizing volunteers and registering voters. Under her direction, the party has hired an executive director and opened multiple offices during campaign seasons. Last fall, Ventura County was one of the few Republican-dominated counties to deliver for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's failed special election ballot initiatives. For its efforts, the county party was singled out by state party leaders.
But Cornejo's endorsement of Tenenbaum over a sitting Republican congressman has been too much even for some of her moderate allies to take. There is talk of removing her from the leadership post when the committee meets in late June, its first meeting after the primary election.
Gallegly has many allies on the Central Committee, including Clark Johnson, whose wife is the congressman's campaign manager; Peggy Sadler, a long-time friend dating back to Gallegly's days on the Simi Valley City Council; and ex officio alternate member Brian Miller, the congressman's popular and able district staff chief.
Cornejo endorsed Tenenbaum during the uncertain weekend following Gallegly's retirement announcement on Friday, March 10, and his change-of-heart the following Wednesday, after it had become clear there was no way he could have his name removed from the ballot and that there could be no extension of the filing period to allow other potential candidates to come forward.
Although others, including committeeman David Tennessen, also endorsed Tenenbaum over that weekend, they rescinded their endorsements after Gallegy re-entered. Cornejo stuck by her decision, although she says she has done nothing on Tenenbaum's behalf since.
Sources say Gallegly himself is not orchestrating the coup, but that the effort has developed powerful momentum. "The endorsement has broken up her coalition," said one committee member, who asked not to be named. "She's going to get removed. It's absolutely going to happen."
Cornejo's plans are to voluntarily step down at the end of the year, believing that five years at the helm are quite enough. A leadership revolt between the primary and the general election, she believes, would not be in the party's interest as it gears up for a fall election that promises to be difficult for Republicans nationwide.