Analysis

June primary: California buckles up

A presidential campaign event at the Oxnard train station during an earlier election. (Photo: Joseph Sohm, via Shutterstock)

Brace yourselves, Californians.  The violent, vicious and volatile Republican political campaigns that have destroyed civility across parts of the South and Midwest are increasingly likely to cross the Sierra and spread vitriol in the Golden State.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he’s going to rent a covered wagon and come to California. Desperate members of the Republican establishment are casting about for something — anything — that will stop Donald Trump’s seemingly unstoppable march toward the Republican presidential nomination. For Democrats, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is looking for a California miracle to get him the nomination and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is looking for a final link in a thus-far victorious campaign chain.

Under the state’s GOP primary rules, delegates are awarded on a winner-take-all basis for each congressional district, or three delegates per district.

Trump needs 1,237 delegate votes to grab the nomination when the Republicans convene in Cleveland this July.  If Trump does as well for the remainder of the campaign as he has done so far in March, he probably will have enough delegates to win outright.  And the demographics of at least some of the remaining states favor Trump, based on who has voted for him so far. All that is tenuous. 

If Ted Cruz and Kasich can manage to collect enough delegates between them to hold Trump off, the situation would be unsettled by the time our June 7 primary rolls around.  California Republicans, long the political chew toy of this overwhelmingly blue state, would find themselves being wooed on the national scene for the first time in decades.

“This will be the first time in years that the California Presidential Primary could actually have an impact on who the Republican nominee will be.  There is a great deal of excitement and we expect a higher-than-normal turnout,” Jim Brulte, the chairman of the California Republican Party, wrote in an email.
One of the main reasons for such heady thoughts is that the Republican Establishment – such as it is — looks to California as its last, best hope of heading off Trump.

If he is deprived of a sweeping victory here, the long battle in all likelihood will be resolved at the July convention.  Under the state’s GOP primary rules, delegates are awarded on a winner-take-all basis for each congressional district, or three delegates per district. There are also 10 at-large delegates and alternate delegates awarded to the winner of the statewide vote.

So, the results of our June primary could be a muddle:  Trump could hit a wall if the anti-Trump powers within the Republican Party were able to mount a savage, multimillion-dollar campaign against him in California.  But that hasn’t worked so far, and there are rumors that at least some former anti-Trump Republicans have given up, reluctantly concluding that he’s going to get the nomination no matter what.

Trump’s negatives are high in California, however, even among Republicans, with almost half of likely Republican voters having an unfavorable opinion of him, according to Field’s January polling.

“Despite the closeness of the standings between Cruz and Trump, other results from the poll indicate that Trump is in a weaker position than Cruz…” — Mark DiCamillo

The rules also specify that California Republican delegates must stick by the candidate they represent for the first two convention ballots.  But after that, they are free of any candidate ties.  Can you imagine the importance that would attach to those delegates, the biggest single convention prize, if their votes go up for grabs? With 172 delegates — 14 percent of what’s needed to get the nomination — California would become the brass ring.  Would the savvy Brulte then emerge as a kingmaker?

California’s respected Field Poll tells us that as of January, Cruz is the first choice of 25 percent of likely Republican voters, with Trump close behind at 23 percent.  U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida (remember him?) was at 13 percent.  Kasich was at a laughable 1 percent.

But Mark DiCamillo, the Field Poll’s director, added some insight that makes the case for a weaker Trump than the surface arithmetic indicates:

“Despite the closeness of the standings between Cruz and Trump, other results from the poll indicate that Trump is in a weaker position than Cruz, and in some respects Rubio, (remember, this was January, before Rubio was gone) among all GOP voters, as well as the broader statewide electorate. For example, just 11% of likely GOP voters name Trump as their second choice preference for president, while twice as many (22%) say this in regard to Cruz. Another 14% choose Rubio as their second choice,” DiCamillo wrote.

Realistically, Hillary Clinton is still likely to arrive at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia with an insurmountable delegate lead.

“Many more California Republican primary voters also have an unfavorable opinion of Trump (45%) than say this about Cruz (20%) or Rubio (26%). Similarly, greater than four in ten Republican voters (43%) say they would be dissatisfied or upset were Trump to become their party’s nominee, while only about half as many say this about Cruz (21%) or Rubio (24%). This means that Trump is in a weaker position to broaden his support among the state’s GOP electorate should voters now supporting other candidates change their minds and migrate to one of other Republicans as the June California primary draws nearer.”  (Emphasis added.)

Even if a preponderance of Rubio supporters go for Cruz, the chances of that being decisive are slim.  An energized Kasich, coming off his Ohio win, could complicate things further.  And the lack of a decisive result in California, if things get that far, means Cleveland, here we come.

As for the Democrats, Bernie Sanders supporters were all over the place at the recent Democratic Party state convention in San Jose.  He is probably hoping California, where he is strong among party activists, the young, and the less-affluent, will be his path to a comeback.  The arithmetic says it won’t.  He’s pinning his hopes on at least staying alive in Connecticut, Delaware and New York, and win, even if narrowly, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.  Then comes California, where he may sweep the coast, but run into trouble in the southern and inland portions of the state where the Clinton-leaning Hispanic population is larger.

Realistically, Hillary Clinton is still likely to arrive at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia with an insurmountable delegate lead.

So far, we’ve been somewhat removed from this wacko, rambunctious presidential campaign season.  But there may not be mercy during the next few months.  Buckle up.

 


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