California Elephant Stampede

A half-dozen Republicans with White House dreams are coming to the California state GOP convention next month to strut their stuff and raise money. But what is equally intriguing about this list of candidates is who is not on it.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush declined an invitation, ex-Gov. Pete Wilson and Elizabeth Dole haven't decided whether to attend and Ohio Rep. John Kasich was pointedly snubbed.

The plum speaking spots at the California Republican Party Convention Feb. 26-28 have been snapped up by Vice President Dan Quayle, Sens. John McCain and Bob Smith, Steve Forbes and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander.

Another convention speaker and presidential hopeful is Gary Bauer, a conservative activist who this week tapped former president and California Gov. Ronald Reagan's son Michael to head his political action committee.

New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani don't appear on the list of speakers. And neither do former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Crossfire host Pat Buchanan.

The twice-annual convention offers presidential hopefuls a chance to dazzle the GOP faithful, schmooze with operatives and tap into California's massive fund-raising machine.

They are coming this year en masse.

"As far as I can recall, going back at least 20 years, I've never seen so many presidential candidates at a convention," state party Chairman Mike Schroeder said Tuesday.

The urgency of courting California has never been greater for presidential candidates. The state has moved its primary up to the earliest possible date March 7, 2000 potentially giving it unprecedented clout in the nomination process. The primary usually takes place in June, long after the nominations are sealed up.

Congressman Kasich was left out in the cold for agreeing to speak at a fundraising luncheon for longtime friend Rep. Gary Condit, a Modesto Democrat, in March 1997.

Condit ultimately canceled the lunch to spare Kasich further embarrassment, saying, "John is being vilified by narrow-minded partisan zealots." Still, with elephantine GOP memory, Schroeder passed over Kasich for a speaking spot this year, citing that incident.

Bush, the front-runner in many polls, declined an invitation to address the convention, saying he would make no public appearances outside Texas until the Legislature there finishes considering his education plan in mid-March.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed