“We’re split about half-half,” an official from the Napa Valley Republican Women Federated declares, as the ladies say their goodbyes and the country club waiters begin tugging at the tablecloths, rearranging the chairs.
She has the pulse of the members of her club — as well as the Republican electorate in California’s fifth congressional district, which is one of several key “swing districts” identified by Breitbart News ahead of the California primary on June 7.
The fifth district stretches north from the industrial and commuter suburbs of the East Bay, through the Napa and Sonoma wine regions and into the mountains, to the southern shore of Lake Berryessa behind the Monticello Dam.
It will likely favor Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. The district is represented in Congress by moderate Mike Thompson, whose signature issue recently has been gun control, a topic Clinton has repeatedly emphasized.
What makes CA-05, and other districts, closely contested between businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is that it combines the kinds of areas and populations where each expects to do well among primary voters. (Ohio governor John Kasich is not currently a factor in the district, though he could be competitive elsewhere in the Bay Area.)
The fifth is one of only two swing districts in the Bay Area; most of the rest are concentrated in the area around Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire, where Cruz has been leading Trump in some of the most recent polls.
Much of the fifth district is rural and agricultural, which could benefit Cruz, who dominates the farming areas of the Central Valley to the east and southeast.
Napa County, the picturesque heart of the district famous for its wines, was also once a GOP stronghold, and still has the highest percentage of registered Republicans of any Bay Area county. The second highest, Contra Costa County, also has a few towns in the fifth district, such as Martinez.
Cruz is currently polling best in areas of the state that are competitive between the two parties, with at least some Republicans in elected office, or memories of such.
Trump, however, is polling far ahead of Cruz in the Bay Area. He also does well in more isolated portions of the Golden State. Parts of the district — including northern Napa County and parts of Lake County — fit that profile well.
In remote Pope Valley, where a blaze called the Butts Fire forced hundreds of families to evacuate in 2014, some locals admire Trump’s rugged style and resilience.
One man described the choice as between Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is likewise seen as a political outsider, rather than Cruz or Ohio governor John Kasich.
Down south in Napa Valley, where local Republicans are used to rubbing shoulders with liberal gentry from San Francisco and Hollywood, Trump’s antics are sometimes disconcerting, even to his supporters. “It’s time to stop that ‘Lyin’ Ted’ stuff,” one woman says.
Half of the seventy women at the luncheon meeting applaud when someone announces the news that Trump will be speaking, after all, at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame on April 29-30, along with Cruz and Kasich. But another woman, seated near me at a table in one corner of the room, rolls her eyes.
“My opinion is, he’s a Democrat,” she says. “He could raise taxes just as easily if he thinks that’s the way to raise revenue,” she adds.
There is some polite debate about which candidate would do best in the general election against Hillary Clinton, but also a shared sentiment that the sooner the current rancor among the candidates ends, the better to unite the party — if possible.
Outside the building, there are a couple of yard signs placed by candidates for local and state office. Presidential campaign signs have not yet sprouted along the roadways — though they will, soon enough, like trophy hubcaps.
The fight promises to be especially intense in the towns — Martinez and Vallejo in the industrial area to the south, and Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Rosa in the wine country. But there are votes up in the mountain country, too.
By the time the dust of the primary settles, and the lush green of spring gives way to the harsh yellow of summer, the ladies of the Napa Valley Republican Women Federated may need to smooth tensions over a few bottles of the region’s finest.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new e-book, Leadership Secrets of the Kings and Prophets: What the Bible’s Struggles Teach Us About Today, is on sale through Amazon Kindle Direct. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.