California Republicans aren’t used to being wooed by presidential candidates for anything other than money, but this weekend’s state GOP convention just south of San Francisco drew all three remaining candidates plus protesters and police. The gathering underscored just how important California’s rich prize of delegates will be in the fight for the nomination, a fight that only Donald Trump can win outright. With the other two candidates trying to stop him from going over the top with delegates.
KCRW spoke with LA Times Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers, who was in Burlingame.
Who are the winners and losers do you think from this weekend?
The big winner was the California Republican Party. They have not had this much attention at a state convention really at any time that I can remember in the last 15 years of covering them, including the Schwarzenegger era. There was a lot of attention, lot of focus, a lot of discussion about the presidential race. The fascinating thing was that that none of the presidential candidates, by the estimation of me and my colleagues at the Times watching the speeches, nobody got like the hugest response ever. I actually would say that the Schwarzenegger speeches of 2003 and 2004 got a bigger response at the conventions. Trump, Kasich, Cruz all got polite responses but no one was standing on their chairs.
California stands to factor in a big way on primary day, how are GOP leaders taking notice of that and how are they preparing for it?
I think one thing that they really hope is that it sparks new registrants to the party. Voter registration for California Republicans has been dropping over the last decade pretty precipitously. I think they hope it brings a turnout that will help other candidates down the ballot for congressional races or legislative races. In terms of what happens for the presidential campaigns I think it’s going to be an interesting few weeks here. If you look at the campaign of Ted Cruz, for example, he probably has the best grassroots campaign so far. He has organized the former leaders of the Republican party, and has as done a lot of outreach there. Donald trump is only starting things and John Kasich is only starting things, too. I think it’s going be an interesting few weeks.
Let’s talk about Ted Cruz, because former governor Pete Wilson endorsed him for president over the weekend. Is that a good thing for Cruz – or given Wilson’s unpopularity in the Latino community after prop 187 more than 20 years ago – or is that a bad thing? Is he sort of like the kiss of death?
Well I think if you’re Ted Cruz you’re looking for something that sticks. I mean you’ve got a campaign that is in distress. Indiana for example is going to be a big make or break, and then California obviously trying to get the right delegates. To me the Wilson endorsement is a is a nod to the fact that if you are a party regular, if you are part of the party faithful in California as a Republican, then this is your guy. Wilson and former chairs of the party all lined up behind him, I think that’s what the message is. I do think it does raise the issues of exactly what Pete Wilson’s ultimate legacy is, and but that’s when you’re looking at a general election campaign and issues of immigration. If you’re trying to appeal to Republicans and diehard California Republicans, Pete Wilson is probably a pretty good endorsement.
He also has Carly Fiorina campaigning with him in California. Carly Fiorina most notably who headed up HP here in California and ran for senate against Barbara Boxer and lost pretty badly. Is the is the calculation that she will help in the golden state?
She didn’t just lose badly, she got clobbered. Barbara Boxer handily beat her in 2010. Fiorina also didn’t exactly leave a great mark in Republican circles by taking a very long time to pay back some of her campaign consultants and left unpaid campaign bills. I think that Fiorina is probably a pick more to the national eye, I mean no one has really seen her in California since that 2010 race. As a matter fact I think she lives in Virginia now. She got a polite response from the audience. But I don’t know that that’s what puts Ted Cruz over the top here. I think back to that ground game: Individual Congressional districts. You win delegates in California by winning in each of the 53 Congressional districts, which means that the most liberal districts a say in the heart of Los Angeles have as many delegates to the Republican national convention as say Dana Rohrabacher’s district in orange county. And that means it’s a hand to hand kind of combat through these Congressional districts.
A lot of folks are going to be voting in that June 7th primary here in California – probably haven’t done it for a long time. Are state registrars ready for this?
I think that’s a good question. I mean I am fascinated by the fact that just two years ago we had the lowest turnout in recorded history in California in the june and november elections. And the and now we’re talking about a big surge of voters. I think elections officials are preparing that means more ballots it means more poll workers. And then just this past week we saw the governor sign a bill that allotted an extra 13 million dollars to counties to administer the june elections and get ready for what they’ve got to do in the fall as well. But i do think it’s going to be interesting to watch this turnout measure. And if it’s close and people have to look at those ballots for a longer time and you know that puts a lot of pressure on elections officials. Then the whole country is going to be waiting to see what happens.