Reporter’s Notebook: A day with the GOP

Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz at the California GOP convention. (Photo: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

At the top of the glistening white staircase leading to the hotel mezzanine, the amiable, white-haired activist was handing out “Cruz for President” stickers.

“I’ve been scoffed at and scorned,” he said.  “It was fun.”

Underneath his red Cruz T-shirt, he wore a blue sports shirt.

“Boring is good,” a Burlingame cop said as he stood near the hotel entrance.

Blue? At the California Republican Party’s State Convention?

“I did it on purpose,” he said, smiling.

Even though he was coming off a week pundits derided as disastrous for his presidential hopes, it was all Cruz Saturday in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s tumultuous visit the day before.  His red, white and blue posters were plastered all over the walls at the Burlingame Hyatt Regency hotel.  Republican activists in attendance stood in small groups, chatting among themselves, some recalling exactly where they were standing Friday when 400 demonstrators forced Donald Trump to use a roundabout route to get inside the hotel for his luncheon speech.

But all was quiet Saturday.

“Boring is good,” a Burlingame cop said as he stood near the hotel entrance.

The mezzanine was crowded with some 31 booths, boosting everything from the Tea Party to various advocates of tax reform.

Clinton was the enemy of choice.  No anti-Bernie signs were to be seen anywhere.

The Kasich booth was staffed, but quiet.  Monterey County Republicans had set up a large photograph of Hillary Clinton on the floor.  It was tilted slightly and there was a hole where her mouth would be.  The idea was to toss beanbags marked “Benghazi,” “The Clinton Foundation” and “Secretary of State” into the hole to demonstrate disgust over the various misdeeds Clinton stands accused of.

A browsing visitor could choose from a yellow “ISIS Hunting Permit Also Valid For: Al Qaeda Taliban, Boko Haaram” or if you were a “Conservative who’s concerned about climate change” you might want to join the Citizens Climate Lobby Conservative Caucus.

The proprietor of the Accuracy in Media booth, representing an organization critical of the media for leaning left, chatted amiably with a media representative who had  stopped to admire the quality of the Republican-themed silk neckties he had for sale.  A few vendors were there for strictly commercial reasons.  One jewelry purveyor’s glittery booth was getting a lot of action from smiling women.

Pete Wilson, who was 38 years old and abut to become mayor of San Diego when Ted Cruz was born in 1970,  delivered a surprise Cruz introduction.

Clinton was the enemy of choice.  No anti-Bernie signs were to be seen anywhere, indicating an apparent Republican belief that the Vermont senator was no longer worthy of being derided.  In contrast to the February Democratic state convention, there was little mention of marijuana legalization, which the GOP opposes.

The standing-room-only Tea Party California Caucus Saturday morning featured a panel discussion on The Right To Bear Arms In California.  It featured a Weatherby PA-08 pump-action shotgun (“… a reliable workhorse that is trustworthy, dependable and easy to use”) as the top $10-per-ticket Freedom Raffle prize.  Lesser prizes included two four-person survival packs (“This emergency supply kit contains food, water, utensils, stove, flashlight, emergency clothing and more!  Have peace of mind!”)  Also offered was a four-day training course in firearms use outside of Las Vegas (“Give us four days and we will make you better than those who respond to 911.”)

Panel member Tim Donnelley, a former assemblyman and 2014 gubernatorial candidate now running for Congress in California’s safely Republican 8th District, told the audience that when he heard of the San Bernardino massacre, “The first thing I did was go to my arsenal” to select which gun he would use to defend his home.

The Delta smelt were wonderful — with cheese and crackers.

At the luncheon in the hotel’s grand ballroom, former Gov. Pete Wilson, who was 38 years old  and a member of the Assembly about to become mayor of San Diego when Ted Cruz was born in 1970,  delivered a surprise Cruz introduction and endorsement.  Wilson called Barack Obama “weak and feckless” and “a wimp at home and a bully abroad.”

Cruz himself delivered his usual stump speech, modified it to throw some red meat to the hundreds of GOP activists in attendance.  Of the fight between environmentalists and farmers over Delta water, he said the Delta smelt were wonderful — with cheese and crackers.  He told the Republicans they had persevered in California in the face of Democratic mismanagement.  And he promised that he, at least, would not be a candidate who used California as an ATM.  “We’re going to spend more than we raise in California,” he declared.

Cruz was interrupted regularly with applause, but the applause seemed tepid, and the standing ovation at the end of his 25-minute speech had a pro-forma aura.  It was not exactly anticlimactic  after Trump’s appearance the previous day, but neither was it fervent.

Everyone had a good time, including Cruz, although he must have been thinking about Tuesday’s crucial Indiana primary, which could decide his political fate.

Meanwhile, he smiled at all the California Republicans.

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