The California Republican primary is unique: It boasts a massive amount of delegates — 172 — and nearly all of them are awarded in what amounts to 53 different elections.
In the June contest, 159 delegates will be up for grabs — three per congressional district. Win the district, win the delegates. So the day will be a test of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s strengths and weaknesses: Will he rally voters through the mass media, as he has done across the country, or will organizational prowess, in which his campaign has so far shown a surprising deficit, be his downfall?
Tim Clark, newly hired to run Trump’s California operation, boasted to Breitbart News last week that the campaign had “outmatched” Sen. Ted Cruz: “We’ve got 53 districts that are in play. We have the task of building 53 different campaign plans for each of those districts, which we’re doing.”
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That stands in sharp contrast to confident pronouncements from Team Cruz that organizational prowess would carry the day in the primary. Former California Republican Party Chairman Mike Schroeder, who is Cruz’s political director in the state, said on “The Laura Ingraham Show” on Friday that his campaign is much better equipped than Trump for the 53 tiny elections.
“We started working on this in August,” he said. “Donald Trump on the other hand, he only hired his state campaign director 10 days ago, and at that point he had never met him.”
Schroeder blasted Trump for “whining” about delegate selection rules that Cruz has mastered in state after state. “We have a policy in our campaign,” he said. “We only hire people who read above a first-grade reading level. And we make sure that they read the rules more than a half an hour before the primary’s going to occur. It’s not complicated.”
Some Cruz supporters cite his campaign organizing skills as a factor in their support.
“I view this delegate recruitment as a proxy for a candidates managerial skills,” said Robert Wert, a pro-Cruz delegate candidate in Pennsylvania, where GOP voters next week will directly select three delegates in each congressional district to go to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
But the California primary is much more straightforward. Candidates have to be able to win support of average voters, not just activists. That is how Trump won 90 of 95 delegates this week in the New York primary. And the rules in California require him only to get the most votes in a district, not an outright majority.
Matthew Jarvis, a political science professor at California State University, Fullerton, said the state is too large for a ground game alone to prevail.
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“Going door to door … it’s only going to get 370 million minutes,” he quipped. “It’s not going to work. It’s a big media state. It’s the only way you can campaign in California. That favors a man who owns free media.”
Polls indicate that Trump is in a strong position. A CBS News/YouGov survey last week suggested that 49 percent of Republican voters favor Trump. A poll commissioned by Capitol Weekly this month had Trump in first place at 41 percent and performing strongly in all parts of the state. Cruz did the best in the Central Valley, home to six congressional districts. But even there, Trump led by a 7-point margin.
Jarvis questioned whether Trump, even with a strong showing June 7, can reach 1,237 — the number of delegates needed for a majority.
“It looks like Trump will do well but not well enough to clinch,” he said.