The odds that the battle for California’s 172 delegates on June 7 will settle the issue of whether or not Donald Trump takes the GOP nomination on the first ballot. So it’s no surprise all three GOP candidates used this weekend’s California GOP state convention in San Francisco as a platform to appeal to primary voters.
Donald Trump scored points with his base for outsmarting a swarm of protesters blocking the front entrance to the hotel. Instead he crawled over barriers in the back of the hotel and emerged to tell the audience he “felt like he had crossed the border.” The rest of his speech was Typical Trump: a melange of bombast, insult and boasting. He mocked his critics as “dumb, disgusting and losers.” He then raised eyebrows by declaring: “Folks, I’m a conservative, but at this point, who cares? We got to straighten out the country.” Trump didn’t change many minds with an audience that was dominated by Ted Cruz supporters.
Neither did John Kasich, who told delegates on Friday night he was the most electable candidate. But Bill Evers, a former assistant secretary of education in the Bush administration, was unimpressed: “Two thirds of his speech could have been given by a Democrat.”
Ted Cruz did excite the crowd with a surprise appearance by former Governor Pete Wilson endorsing him. Wilson was known as both a hardliner on illegal immigration but also a social moderate during his years as a U.S. Senator and two terms as governor. So his comments about Donald Trump were all the more stinging.
“My friends, we cannot afford a Republican nominee that brings us down-ticket decimation,” Wilson said. “We can’t afford a nominee in 2016 who is losing women voters at a far greater rate even than Hillary Clinton is losing men and millennials.”
Joel Anderson, a GOP State Senator backing Trump is from Wilson’s home town of San Diego. He says that while he admires the former governor his support for Cruz wont have much impact on average voters. “Trump is exciting voters in my district in ways that make excitement for Arnold Schwarzenegger pale by comparison,” he told me. “i think Trump will get a very strong vote.”
But California’s primary is actually 53 separate contests for delegates at the Congressional district level, including many in seats in San Francisco and Los Angeles where Republicans are a microscopic minority. That is why Cruz strategists believe he can micro target those voters and secure a large share of delegates than expected without having to spend precious campaign dollars on expensive TV advertising.
Everyone agrees Trump has some kind of a lead in California, but few are willing to bet his currently shambolic grass-roots campaign could cost him a lot of delegates to Cruz and Kasich.