By Sharon Bernstein
BURLINGAME, Calif. (Reuters) - The Californian Republican Party voted on Sunday to extend its term limit to allow the former lawmaker who brought the party back from near-bankruptcy in an increasingly Democratic state to seek a third term as chairman.
Buoyed by a flush bank account and the prospect that members' votes will matter in a presidential primary for the first time in decades, GOP members at their annual convention near San Francisco voted for a change to longtime party bylaws to allow former state Senator Jim Brulte to run again next year to be the party's chairman.
"I think he's a great chairman and he's done a lot for the party," said Michael Escoto, 35, a delegate from Los Angeles.
Brulte's strong hand guiding normally fractious California Republicans was clear throughout the three-day convention, where newly energized members were courted by all three candidates vying for the national party's presidential nomination - Donald Trump, John Kasich and Ted Cruz - along with Carly Fiorina, who is joining Cruz' campaign as his potential running mate.
Since Brulte took the helm of the then-faltering party in 2013, the California GOP has gone from having less than $200,000 in the bank to its current cash on hand of $4.5 million, according to state campaign finance records.
Now, positions cut during layoffs a few years ago have been replaced, and the party's annual convention - previously a sleepy affair - was packed with delegates and guests.
The possibility that California's June primary will matter in the presidential race for the first time in decades if frontrunner Donald Trump does not secure enough delegates before then has energized members.
On Friday, anti-Trump protesters blocked the road to the Hyatt Regency hotel near San Francisco International Airport where the convention was held, engaging in scuffles with police and throwing eggs a day after chaotic demonstrations against the candidate in Orange County.
Inside, his speech drew a standing ovation, as did appearances later in the weekend by Kasich, Cruz and Fiorina.
Still, Brulte will face a difficult road in a state where Democrats hold all statewide-elected offices and dominate both houses of the legislature.
The Californian Republic Party has become fractured, splitting among Tea Party conservatives, anti-immigration activists, libertarians and an increasingly alienated moderate old guard.
There were just under 4.8 million Republicans registered in the state as of Jan. 3, bringing the total down to 27.6 percent of the electorate from 30.4 percent in 2012.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Alan Crosby)