THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-For the first time since the Goldwater and Rockefeller toss up for the party ticket in 1964, California’s June primary could be the final three-point shot in what has been a contentious season.
If Cruz can leave Trump shy of the 1,237 delegates he needs, the final buzzer will almost definitely take place following California’s primary. Cruz, Trump, and even Kasich know California counts and have been angling for cash infusions, planning new field offices, making new hires, and putting together big-money coalitions in what will be the most consequential Republican primary in over fifty years.
Trump won’t be able to seal the GOP nomination until June 7 with California’s 172 delegates so the push for cash in the state is monumental. GOP strategist Ray McNally, along with operatives Rob Stutzman and Richard Temple, formed Victory California the first California-specific super PAC dedicated to defeating Trump in the Golden State but not without some defense from an independent pro-Trump super PAC spearheaded by former advisor Roger Stone, as well as the co-chair of the national pro-Trump Great America PAC helmed by Californian Eric Beach, who plans to get involved with the California campaign.
McNally, one of the strategists behind a new California-specific anti-Trump super PAC, says, “California is likely to be where this fight is decided.” Cruz beat his rivals to the punch by putting his first operative on the ground here over six months ahead of his rivals when he named former state GOP Party Chair Ron Nehring as his California campaign manager. He also assembled a bunch of connected backers, including former state chairman Michael Schroeder as political director and Dan Palmer, son-in-law of GOP financier Donald Bren, as finance chairman.
Trump and Kasich have been busy upping their game with Trump drafting former Ben Carson Nevada operative Jimmy Stracner to lead his West Coast political operations team and is close to naming a CA state director to beef up his lack of infrastructure.
Kasich named Scott Scheid in charge of west coast operations last month. The Ohio governor is planning to import his signature town hall meetings to the Bay Area later this month. Cruz is said to be scouting locations to launch brick-and-mortar offices throughout the state, from the Bay Area to the OC and has been growing his paid staff on the ground.
Just what do the polls show? Trump is currently leading Cruz but by a slim one percent margin, 36 to 35 percent among likely voters in an LA Times poll. Trump carries a seven percent lead in the Field Poll. California’s delegate rules make the scenario a bit more complicated. The system gives three delegates to the winner of each of its 53 congressional districts so the fight will be waged district by district. Cruz is ahead in the more conservative Central Valley but not in the Bay Area. He’s falling behind badly in Southern California outside of L.A. Kasich’s numbers are beefier in the San Francisco area but he falls to the third spot everywhere else. Trump is strongest in the OC and San Diego.
All three candidates have allies throughout the state. Trump’s supporters include people like former state legislator Tony Strickland, as well as Elizabeth Emken who ran against Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2012. On the Kasich side are former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who ran for governor in 2010.
The first California playoff between the candidates will be at the state GOP convention in Burlingame at the end of the month. Trump is confirmed to speak April 29 at the opening banquet. Kasich will deliver a keynote that afternoon and Cruz, the following day. Cruz surrogate Carly Fiorina is also on tap to speak.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.