The California primary on June 7 will be the decisive contest for both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.
There is almost no way that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) can win majorities of delegates in their respective parties, but they can stop Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump from sealing the deal.
Cruz, trailing Trump by just seven points, may even win the state outright. Who are the Californians voting for him?
We know from recent SurveyUSA and Field polls that among likely Republican voters, Trump does well among the poorest and the richest; the most educated and the least educated; the most conservative and the least conservative.
Cruz wins the middle of each of those categories. He also does particularly well among young voters, and holds an edge among Latinos and religious voters. Among first-time voters, Cruz trounces Trump by nearly two-to-one.
Geographically, a map of “Cruzifornia” has begun to emerge. He dominates in the rural Central Valley’s dozen or so congressional districts — ironically so, since the region’s Republicans have been among Cruz’s most vocal critics in Washington.
In 2013, Rep. Devin Nunes of the 22nd district accused Cruz of lying to the House GOP during the Obamacare shutdown. Now, however, his district, which is two-thirds Latino, is certain to choose Cruz over Trump.
Cruz does less well in Southern California — at least outside Los Angeles and the Inland Empire counties (Riverside and San Bernardino).
One reason is immigration: the Central Valley elects some of the most ardent supporters of reform, while Southern California communities like Murietta are leading the resistance. Cruz is also less popular among the area’s military voters: the officers prefer an establishment type, but the enlisted ranks are with Trump.
The places with the greatest potential for Cruz to pick up delegates — which are awarded by congressional district, on a winner-takes-all, three-delegates-per-district basis — are L.A. and the Inland Empire. While sprawling, these areas are relatively densely populated, and have the highest number of congressional districts (and, hence, delegates).
What makes this region different from the Bay Area, or the rest of Southern California, where Trump is dominant?
The clue lies in a poll by the Rand Corporation, which found that Trump voters agreed with the statement, “People like me don’t have any say about what the government does.”
A conservative stuck in the deep-blue districts around San Francisco, who has never had a chance to vote a Republican into office, would certainly feel that way. So, too, would a conservative in Orange or San Diego counties who had elected many Republicans only to watch them buckle to Jerry Brown in Sacramento or Barack Obama in Washington.
For conservatives in “safe” red or blue seats, the system has failed.
It is in more competitive areas that support for Cruz is strongest among Republicans. There, voters who are made to feel that their vote matters, year after year. They may have to suffer a Democrat in Congress, but they elect the occasional Republican to the state legislature. They know the system doesn’t work, but they haven’t given up on it.
Tellingly, the Inland Empire, once Ground Zero of the subprime mortgage crisis, is now America’s fastest-growing industrial center. Young families are buying their first homes there, preferring long commutes to prohibitive L.A. prices. They are, against all odds, still optimistic. These are voters with a stake in a failing state and a failed party.
And therein lies the crux of Cruzifornia: its leader, though out of step with the state party on policy issues, stands for the institutional status quo.
California’s GOP establishment needs Cruz as much as he needs it. He once embarrassed the party elite; now, he offers them a convenient way to appease liberals and Latinos by distancing themselves from Trump, while at the same time proving their conservative credentials to a party base that holds them in suspicion.
The Field poll also found Trump voters were likely to have voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003. It’s not, as my friend Ed Morrissey argues, that they lack “long-term memory,” but rather that they still feel unrepresented and want radical change.
The residents of Cruzifornia are more cautious. They’re not worried Trump will become a Democrat; they’re worried that to restore the “great,” he will destroy the merely “good.”
And good, for Cruzifornia, is good enough.
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.