With new GOP rules, presidential hopefuls need district-by-district plan

When the California Legislature reinstated the June Primary last year, did
it consign California once again to “Nowhere Land” in Republican
presidential politics?

Cynics may ask, “Who cares?” California went into Blue State Depression
after Ronald Reagan’s departure from the White House in 1989, and the
political elves remain, well, “elfish” about prospects for recovery.

Neither $15 million in Bush-Cheney money in 2000 nor Recall Revival seem to
have had any impact on the Golden State’s shift to Code Blue. The
Bush-Cheney campaign never really opened the doors here in 2004.
However, 2008 could prove more significant.

The GOP will have its first completely “open” Presidential nomination
process that year (no incumbent president, vice president or nominee for one
of these offices will be on the ballot), with candidates like John McCain,
George Allen, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and perhaps even Condi Rice,
seeking a chance to carry the Elephant Banner. Just as important,
California Republican Party rules will encourage contestants to campaign
here in spring 2008 if the nomination is still up for grabs as the snow
melts in the Sierra.

Why? In 1999, in a little remembered drill that nonetheless caused the Bush
Campaign heartburn, GOP conservatives engineered a “winner take all by
Congressional District” delegate selection process for GOP delegates to
future presidential nominating conventions after 2000. Led by then State
Senator Ray Haynes, Party Chairman John McGraw and his Executive Director,
yours truly, the Republican Party modified its old “winner take all” rules.

The 1999 rules weren’t in effect for the 2000 California Presidential
Primary, at which President Bush and Senator McCain had a semblance of a
contest. The new rules also had no effect on delegate selection in 2004,
when President Bush was the incumbent. However, their impact on the 2008
Presidential nomination could prove to be quite different.

How do the Presidential delegate selection rules work? Candidates for the
Republican presidential nomination still appear on the California
presidential primary ballot and file delegate slates with the CRP. However,
delegates are awarded to whichever candidate achieves a plurality of
Republican votes cast at the presidential primary in each congressional
district. Further, the candidate who attains the plurality of votes
statewide receives all the “at large” delegates, now reduced by years of
Blue State blues to just a handful.

The delegate selection rules encourage presidential candidates to campaign
in congressional districts that might offer them a chance of a plurality:
areas that offer them the best opportunities to go face-to-face with the
voters or at least to hit the 5 o’clock news shows and talk radio–in places
like Fresno, Redding, Hemet and San Luis Obispo.

Presidential candidates will also have to devise grassroots campaigns into
traditionally non-GOP areas, such as Maxine Waters’ 35th Congressional
District, where around 10,000 Republicans regularly vote. Yet, whoever wins
the plurality of those 10,000 votes will gain 3 Congressional District
delegates to the 2008 convention–equivalent to Delaware, Wyoming, or four
other states with only one Congressional District (though these states comes
with at-large delegates, too).

Candidates may come into California with a regional strategy – choosing to
compete only for delegates in a single media-market.

While all of these things will be good for the GOP, with candidates focused
locally instead of just on the state as a whole, there are still some
substantial obstacles in the way of seeing any of this make a difference,
for example New Hampshire, Iowa, and a number of regional primaries, still
loom as obstacles to putting California back on the map. But a
forward-looking presidential campaign might do well to invest in localized
grassroots network, capable of waging a district-by district campaign!

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