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Trump Leads In California, Setting Stage For Fierce Battle In GOP Primary

Republican presidential candidates, businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, argue as Ohio Gov. John Kasich listens during a Republican presidential primary debate at Fox Theatre in Detroit, March 3, 2016.
Associated Press
Republican presidential candidates, businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, argue as Ohio Gov. John Kasich listens during a Republican presidential primary debate at Fox Theatre in Detroit, March 3, 2016.

Talk of 'Stalingrad' and 'hand-to-hand combat' as candidates contend for big delegate prize

Trump Leads In California, Setting Stage For Fierce Battle In GOP Primary
GUEST:Scott Shafer, senior editor, KQED California Politics and Government Desk

After years of feeling almost irrelevant, California Republicans are getting ready for a big moment this year. Scott Shafer senior editor for KQED news reports that the state GOP is gearing up for the June presidential primary with a combination of excitement and dread. If there was any doubt whether California's June 7 primary would come up count for something. Hasek made it clear the night he won the primary in his home state. I'm going to rent a covered wagon and have the sale blow us to California. It is by far the most fascinating presidential campaign I have ever witnessed. That is the vice chair of the state Republican Party. She said the states primary has people returning like swallows to San Juan. They are coming back into the party. They are seeing they may be relevant this time. The Republican primary is closed to registered Republicans only. That could help the most conservative Republican in the case. A lot of the mainstream Republicans of California have lined up behind Ted Cruz. He hasn't grass-roots operation. People are lining up behind him. There is an active anti-Trump effort gearing up in California also. They will be generating ads like this one. Trump once this link he is Mr. tell us like it is. He is really just playing us for chumps. Party activists says Trump binds him of another flashy Republican. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Turns out it was a sham. He was an actor. He acted to get my support and then went to sacrament -- Sacramento and became an outsider. Like and go -- outside I think he will be more competitive than we think he is because we're seeing this tremendous appetite against establishment on both sides. It's all great for a party that is below using voters. Is going to mean that our volunteer rolls will increase. You will have excitement that people want. They will get registered and fill out those volunteer cards increasing the volunteer rolls will be very important especially if we can carry that to November. California has the most delegates. 10% of the total number of delegates needed to capture the GOP nomination are available here. Each district has three delegates. Whichever candidate gets the most votes gets all three. There are delegates to be won in every district whether San Francisco liberal Pelosi or Bakersfield. That brings to mind World War II. One of the, I was told it was like Stalingrad. It is hand-to-hand combat. Even if you live in liberal Oakland -- Oakland or San Francisco. Anyplace they think they can win delegates. The primary turns out they are counting on someone else. Hillary Clinton is both loved and despised. Whoever the nominee is, people will be working to defeat Hillary. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. I'm Scott Shafer. Scott joins me now. Hello. Would you say it is the goal of state Republican officials to stop Donald Trump? No. I would not say that. They may be hoping that he is stopped. There is a civil war going on within the Republican Party. You have a lot of rank-and-file Republicans. I met some the other day and he spake in a liberal Bay Area. It was a Republican event. I found a lot of Trump supporters. I think they are mindful of not wanting to alienate the voters. As we see in a poll this week he has a lot of support in California. I think there's a lot of fear of what it would mean down the road if he is not at the top of the ticket. There will be Republicans in California who is helping to organize ads to stop Donald Trump. I don't think you will hear the party leadership take a public role on that at all. You mentioned this public policy that shows Donald Trump leading among lately -- likely voters. How much of really does he have? This was taken before Rubio dropped out. With Rubio in the mix it is Trump 38th top cruise 19 and Rubio and Casey both 12. They then redistributed Rubio's votes and it was Trump still at 38th, crews picked up a 227 38th 2716. A comfortable margin but we're still 2 1/2 months away. You have to said he is still the man -- man to beat. One of the most telling things. They are dissatisfied with the candidates. The poll showed 40 The poll showed 46%, less than half were happy with their choices. You have a lot of people who just wish there was someone else running. Maybe they supported one of the others whether it was Bush or Rubio perhaps. They don't like the choices. A lot of them are still undecided. That's why what happens after the primary in June -- in Cleveland where they are holding their convention becomes so interesting. You have a lot of dread really. Voters say they like Trump and cruise. The to the do the weakest against Hillary in the polls. Democrats polls show Sanders polling strongly in California. Yes. He is behind provide -- but not by that much. This is a poll that is plus or minus This is a poll that is plus or -6. She has not closed the deal. Hillary, and the Clinton name is a good one in California. She did well against Obama in 2000 aid. You would think she would be walking away with it. That is clearly not the case. There is a lot of enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders here. That can turn and be translated into turnout on election day. That could give him -- it could be closer than the polls show. Moving for a moment to state for Barbara boxer, it seems has a significant number of voters on both parties still undecided as to who to support for that particular seat when it comes to the primary. A really are. This is a race where the two leading candidates are both Democrats. The Attorney General is a 20 -- is at 26% and Loretta Sanchez is at 17. Then you have Republicans got to former party chairs at Nine and 6%. 30 one percent are undecided. That part of that is so much of the oxygen has been sucked out of the air by Donald Trump and the presidential race the whole -- people don't know for sure who is running for the Senate. I'm sure that number will come down. There are still a lot of votes that the candidates can try to convince to vote for them. You spend so much time studying these issues, what is your take away from this new poll? The take away is forming that the Trump phenomenon is real. I am surprised to see how well he is doing in California. There is really, this is the year of the outsider. Both Sanders and Trump are doing so well that you have to throw out the playbook. Things that we thought that we knew about politics and California, don't apply in this race. Donald Trump is extremely unpopular. His favorable unfavorable across the country is -30. I think at's 30 one 60 on unfavorable. Hillary Clinton is unpopular also. What you see is being well-known and an insider supported by the party machinery don't do it for you by itself. This is a year when voters based on there in -- anxiety or fears of frustration take a good look at people who are not part of the establishment.

With California's June primary looking more consequential every day, a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows Donald Trump with a commanding lead among the remaining Republicans running for president.

Trump is preferred by 38 percent of likely voters, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with 19 percent. The poll was finished just before Florida Sen. Marco Rubio exited the race, and both he and Ohio Gov. John Kasich registered 12 percent in the poll.

Without Rubio in the race and his supporters' second-choice votes added in, Trump remains at 38 percent, while Cruz gains 8 percentage points for a total of 27 percent. Kasich wins 14 percent without Rubio included.

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton maintains a 48 percent to 41 percent lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

And in the U.S. Senate race, Attorney General Kamala Harris is preferred by 26 percent of likely voters, followed by Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez with 17 percent. Both are Democrats. Republicans Tom Del Becarro and Duf Sundheim are in single digits (9 percent and 6 percent respectively), with 31 percent of respondents saying they're still undecided.  Republican Ron Unz entered the race after the poll was conducted.

The two Senate candidates who get the most votes in June, regardless of party affiliation, will face off in the November election.

If there was any doubt whether California's primary would count for something, Kasich removed it the night he won the primary in his home state.

"I’m getting ready to rent a covered wagon," Kasich told the crowd in Cleveland last week. "We’re gonna have a big sail and blow us to the Rocky Mountains and over the mountains to California."

Disillusioned Republicans return to the party

"It is by far the most fascinating presidential campaign I’ve ever been involved in and seen and witnessed," said San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon, vice chair of the California Republican Party.

Dhillon said the state's suddenly relevant primary has Republicans who left the party in disgust returning like the swallows to San Juan Capistrano.

"They’re coming back into the party and they're seeing that they may be relevant this time," she said.

California's GOP primary is closed — only registered Republicans can vote. That could help the most conservative candidate in the race, said Tom Hudson with the group California Republican Assembly.

"Longtime party activists and party volunteers and party donors and a lot of the mainstream of California have lined up behind Ted Cruz," Hudson said. "The Trump people have hats and bumper stickers and a bunch of names on a piece of paper, but that's about it."

Unlike Trump or Kasich, Hudson said, Cruz has an active grass-roots operation here lining up delegates for the primary. A few prominent Republicans, including Carly Fiorina, are also supporting him. Hudson and other conservatives worry that Trump would be like Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was California's governor, what some conservatives call a RINO, or Republican In Name Only.

Schwarzenegger "was a disaster as governor," Hudson said. He said he thinks Trump, like "The Governator," has "no core beliefs and says whatever is popular."

Conservative GOP activist Jon Fleischman agreed, saying Trump is just playing on voter anger while promising to shake things up.

"It turns out it was a sham. He was an actor who acted mad to get my support," Fleischman said of Schwarzenegger. "And then he went to Sacramento and really became a political insider."

But Republican consultant Mike Madrid thinks critics underestimate Trump at their peril.

"I think he’s probably going to be more competitive than we think he is because we’re seeing this tremendous appetite against establishment candidates on both sides of the aisle," Madrid said.

While Madrid thinks the Trump phenomenon is driving up voter turnout, "only half are pro-Trump, while the other half is turned off."

Republican consultant Hector Barajas said it’s all great for a party that's been losing voters — and statewide elections in California — year after year after year.

"It's gonna mean that our volunteer rolls are going to increase," Barajas predicted. "You’re going to have a lot more of that excitement, people wanting to get themselves registered, making sure they're registered. At the same time filling out those volunteer cards. You know increasing those volunteer rolls will be important, especially if we can carry that all the way to November."

'Hand-to-hand delegate combat'

California has the most delegates of any state — in fact, more than 10 percent of the total number of delegates needed to capture the GOP nomination are available here.

Each of the state’s 53 congressional districts has three delegates, and whichever candidate gets the most votes in each district wins all three. That means there are delegates to be won in every district, whether it’s represented by San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi or conservative Kevin McCarthy in Bakersfield.

GOP vice chair Dhillon said that kind of competition brings to mind World War II.

"One of the candidates’ top spokespersons told me it’s like going to be like the Battle of Stalingrad — hand-to-hand delegate combat," Dhillon said. "That means in each of the congressional districts there’s a fight."

So you might just see Trump, Cruz or Kasich even if you live in liberal Oakland, Santa Monica or San Francisco — anywhere they think they can win delegates. Every Republican interviewed for this story hopes the contentious primary will draw out as much as 30 percent more GOP voters. That, in turn, could improve the fortunes of down-ballot candidates for the U.S. Senate, Congress and the state Legislature.

However California's primary turns out, it's unlikely Republicans will leave united. Dhillon is counting on someone else to bring the party together.

"Hillary Clinton is universally loathed and despised in our party," she said. "So whoever the nominee is, and even if it’s Donald Trump, people will be working to defeat Hillary."

Copyright 2016 KQED. To see more election coverage, visit kqed.org/election2016.

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