California readies for contested presidential primary

Trump and CruzAs the GOP field consolidates in a bitterly contested election season, California Republicans brace for an uncertain but likely bruising state primary.

Though small, California’s mainstream conservative establishment has a degree of power that appears to be unusual this election cycle, coalescing around Ted Cruz’s insurgent conservative campaign instead of Marco Rubio’s more traditional effort. Ron Nehring, Cruz’s California chairman who previously served as the state GOP chair and ran for Lt. Governor in 2014, touted the California Republican Assembly’s overwhelming first ballot vote in favor of Ted Cruz, noting that Ronald Reagan called the CRA the “conscience” of the party.

The Trump factor

But Donald Trump has reason to be confident that he will come out on top in California. “Earlier in the season, polls already showed him doing well,” as Fox and Hounds recalled. “A January Field survey showed him running about even with Ted Cruz, and he has surely gained strength since then. Cruz is pitching his appeal to evangelical voters, who are much scarcer in California than in the South. As the Nevada entrance polls confirm, Trump has a broader base, and he is attractive to voters who worry about illegal immigration. California Republican voters are especially passionate about that issue.”

And California recently handed Trump one of his first endorsements from a sitting member of Congress — Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter. “We don’t need a policy wonk as president. We need a leader as president,” Hunter told Politico, joking that Trump’s indifference toward shows of support from current officeholders made him more inclined to announce his own backing. Hunter, Politico added, “sponsored legislation last year that became known by its opponents as the Donald Trump Act, which would have forced local law enforcement in sanctuary cities to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they had an undocumented immigrant in custody.”

Losing voters

New figures on party affiliation offered another unnerving sign for California Republicans turned off by Trump. A new report released by Secretary of State Alex Padilla “finds that 24 percent of California voters now officially have ‘no party preference,’ the term used by elections officials to describe independents,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “That’s up almost three percentage points since the last presidential election in 2012.” Eric McGhee, elections researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, told the Times that the GOP has been losing significant numbers of voters to the bloc declining to state a preference. “The Democratic share of registrants has been flat, the independent share has been climbing fast, and the Republican share has been sinking just as fast,” he said.

“In the January 2008 report, almost one in five California voters were unaffiliated with a political party. In the last open presidential election, 2004, only 16 percent of voters were counted in the category of independent. Republicans have suffered the greatest blow from the shifting allegiances of California voters. No statewide GOP candidate has been elected since 2006, and the party’s share of the electorate since then has plummeted by 7 percentage points.”

A March surprise?

The trend has led some observers to game out implausible but potentially effective strategies for tearing delegate-rich California from Trump’s hands. On NBC’s Today Show, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd raised the prospect of a surprise entrant anti-Trump voters could rally behind. “If Trump is blowing through March and then the panic really sets in, […] it’s all a simply denying him a majority of delegates, doing whatever it takes,” Todd said. “There is still a filing deadline to make in the California primary. Maybe a Mitt Romney” would jump in, he ventured.

“This is a scenario someone outlined to me a couple days ago. Mitt Romney would file late, you may get favorite sons and daughters to file late, simply to try to beat Trump, deny him delegates and create another way for a brokered convention. I have to tell you, it’s the most farfetched.”

Romney recently made waves on Twitter by going public with concern that Trump’s tax returns might show him to be boastful or misleading about his actual net worth.

Tags assigned to this article:
Alex PadillaTed CruzRon NehringDonald Trump

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