California Republicans spent a good part of their three-day statewide convention last weekend celebrating efforts to invite more female candidates and activists into their "big tent" - and then a little button being sold to GOP delegates outside a VIP reception at the Anaheim Hilton drew all the attention.
It compared potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton to a hen with "fat thighs, small breasts and a left wing."
The "KFC Special" button about Clinton was sold by an independent vendor, and a picture of it was posted on Twitter by The Chronicle. It quickly solicited comments calling it offensive and insensitive and prompted the state's GOP leaders to track down the vendor and remove it.
San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon
, the vice chair of the California Republican Party
, who chaired a convention panel on encouraging more women in office and in party leadership, said inclusion of women was the official party message of the weekend meeting, which drew hundreds.
"I found it personally offensive," she said of the item, but added that it was sold by an independent vendor, not the party, at the convention site.
Party officials understand "there's the First Amendment right" to free speech, which sometimes includes offensive speech, she said.
As a conservative, "I'm personally offended by 50 percent of the bumper stickers I see every day in San Francisco," where Sarah Palin
was the target of blistering attacks and a ballot measure once suggested naming a waste facility after former President George W. Bush
, she noted.
"It's part of the slings and arrows of political discourse ... from time to time, people will use ugly stereotypes. I certainly impose a code ... that we don't use racist, sexist and homophobic comments in our party communications," Dhillon said.
Sacramento political strategist Kevin Spillane
said "the reality of the convention was that the big events" were all about the theme of "inclusion" - and successfully underscored the growing role of women, Latinos and Asian voters in Republican activism.
"I've been waiting for the last 20 years to see the (California) Republican Party get it - and they're getting it. And that's the reality of the last two conventions," said Spillane, who said he never saw any delegates wearing the buttons.
San Diego mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher
, a former Republican and California assemblyman, tweeted: "And people wonder why I left the GOP."
"What a great way for the CA GOP to win over the moderates," wrote Twitter poster@sf_kevin. "Is it any wonder that they're powerless in CA?"
Twitter poster Jennifer Seghers
remarked that the same "outraged liberals" who complained about the buttons probably thought "hilarious" a raunchy "Saturday Night Live" skit in which Miley Cyrus
suggestively played Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann
twerking in hot pants.
That didn't stop Democrats and progressive groups from seizing on the brouhaha, which handed some a chance to reprise a potentially thorny issue of the 2012 election - the so-called Republican war on women.
"At the California Republican Party convention this weekend, leaders in the GOP spent most of the time wondering why their party is so unpopular with women and people of color, while at the same time relying on the same tired, racist and sexist attacks to energize their base," said Paul Song
, chairman of the progressive Courage Campaign, which put up an online petition to protest the items.
Tenoch Flores, Democratic Party
spokesman, said in an e-mail statement that "for all the talk of a fresh start and playing on Democrats' traditional demographic turf, it's clear old habits die hard with Republicans. How else could anyone, Republican or not, explain why these offensive campaign buttons targeting Hillary Clinton were being sold on site?"
Spillane said "the buttons were ridiculously offensive," but added, "there weren't that many vendors there, and nobody was paying much attention to them."
Next time, he said, "I can guarantee you (that one) won't be back."
And no wonder: It looks like the sexist comments on the button weren't even original.
The Herald Sun newspaper
in Melbourne, Australia, noted that the Clinton button wording was "sadly similar to the sexist language on the menu at a Liberal fundraising dinner" there in March - where a dish named after the former prime minister was listed as "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail - Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box