Donald Trump took his presidential campaign to the U.S. Pacific Coast state of California Friday, bypassing hundreds of protesters outside the California Republican Party’s annual convention south of San Francisco, as he addressed party officials in a state that could decide the Republican nominee for the November election.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz will speak at the gathering near San Francisco Saturday, as his staff deploys thousands of volunteers ahead of California’s primary vote June 7. Ohio Governor John Kasich, a distant third in the contest, spoke to delegates Friday night. All three campaigns are coping with party rules that make the California race a series of local battles.
Trump maneuvered past hundreds of protesters to arrive at the California site and walked along a concrete barrier behind the hotel. Some waved Mexican flags to protest Trump’s pledge to stop illegal immigration by building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. “That was not the easiest entrance I’ve ever made,” he joked. “We went over a fence and through a fence…. It felt like I was crossing the border.”
Undecided Republicans, including conservative Tea Party activist Mary Jordan, are “trying to do our homework and compare notes and make the best decision.” The Tea Party California Caucus was distributing pamphlets, and displayed a life-size cut-out of Donald Trump. “A lot of Tea Party people are behind Ted Cruz too,” said Jordan, “so we’re just watching."
Convention-goer Maria Aguila backs Trump “because we need real change this time,” she said. Aguila is Mexican American and rejects the criticism that Trump is a racist. Her brother, Victor Aguila, also a Trump supporter, said “he never spoke anything against Mexicans. He spoke out against illegal immigration.”
Outside the hotel, Mexican American Rosa Penate was one of many who disagreed. She held a sign that accused Trump of racist bigotry. “It doesn’t matter the color of the skin, or culture. No matter,” said Penate. “We’re human,” she said, adding that she has no use for any Republicans in the race.
Several protesters tried to force their way through the police line to enter the hotel, and they advanced a few meters before police pushed them back. Authorities say at least five were arrested. Inside, the delegates were focused on choices and strategy.
Michael Schroeder, co-chairman of the Cruz campaign in California, wrote the rules that govern the Republican nominating process when he was California Republican chairman from 1997-'99.
Delegates who are pledged to a particular candidate are chosen in each of California’s 53 congressional districts, and the winning candidate will send three delegates from that district to the Republican national convention in July. It makes no difference, said Schroeder, who wins the popular vote in the state. “It’s 53 separate elections and not a single election.”
If Trump secures the needed 1,237 delegates from all Republican state primaries and caucuses, he will be the nominee. If not, delegates to the nominating convention will hold second or third votes, when they are free to switch support to a different candidate. That could open the door to a Cruz nomination.
Schroeder said the Cruz campaign has mobilized 41,000 volunteers in a process that started last June. “We’re going to call,” he said. “We’re going to knock on their doors and we’re going to campaign face to face. That is something that a very organized campaign with a lot of volunteers could do, whereas a campaign that is basically sort of a travelling circus cannot do.”
Trump complained in his speech that the process is “rigged,” but he was late to understand how the rules work, said analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of the University of Southern California.
“Donald Trump played it by ear for far too long,” she said. “It has come down to a district by district, in many states, battle for delegates. This is as deep into the weeds as I’ve seen this process go in a very long time,” she said.
Political scientist Josh Putnam of the University of Georgia said for Cruz, the strategy is simple. “Step one, keep Trump under 1,237 (pledged delegates). Step two, have delegates that are sympathetic to you lined up to support you on a second or third ballot when more and more delegates become unbound.”
Kasich hopes waning
Hopes are waning for third-place contender John Kasich, a former nine-term congressman who is now in his second term as Ohio’s governor. “He has character,” said supporter Sue Caro.
“He has experience. He has balanced the budget federally but he’s balanced the budget statewide in Ohio as well. Everywhere you look, John Kasich can show that he knows how to govern,” she said.
However, barring a prolonged fight at the national convention, a Kasich nomination is unlikely.
Trump told California Republicans Friday he would like to see “solidarity, unity relationship, friendship” in his party. “Can I win without it? I think so,” he said. Cruz supporters say their efforts in California could shift the tide. His announced running mate, Californian Carly Fiorina, will address the San Francisco meeting Saturday night.