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California Primary: Cruz Targets East Bay Swing District

“We have to make sure we re-elect Catharine Baker. She could be the last vote preventing a supermajority for the Democrats in the State Assembly.”

That’s one of several announcements at the Tri-Valley Republican Women Federated’s April dinner in Livermore, California, at a golf course adjacent to the local municipal airport. Outside, the setting sun illuminates the green hills of the far East Bay, as legions of Sillicon Valley super-commuters make the distant daily trek to the San Joaquin Valley.

California’s 15th district is one of the most important toss-ups among Republicans in the June 7 California primary. A quick look at the district map reveals the reason.

The 15th, taking up much of Alameda County, consists of two distinct halves. The first half, to the west, includes the liberal southern Oakland suburbs of Union City and Hayward, bordering the San Francisco Bay. The second, to the east of the Berkeley Hills, includes the more conservative communities of Pleasanton and Livermore, the latter the site of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, both home to many scientists and their families.

California District 15

Voter registration data from the California Secretary of State reinforce what the geography of the district suggests. Overall, the 15th is a Democratic district, represented in Congress by moderate Democrat Eric Swalwell. On the west side, there are 35,414 registered Democrats in Hayward, and just 7,159 Republicans; in Union City, there are 17,188 Democrats, and just 4,044 Republicans. On the east side, there are nearly as many Republicans as Democrats in Pleasanton and Livermore.

The west side of the district is the sort of area where outsider Donald Trump expects to do well in California — where conservatives have almost no hope of electing someone who represents them, and therefore have little faith in the ordinary political process.

The east side, by contrast, is like other regions where Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is doing well — where Republicans are at least competitive with Democrats, and believe that their votes matter a great deal.

Pleasanton (Michael C. Berch / Wikimedia Commons)

Pleasanton (Michael C. Berch / Wikimedia Commons)

Indeed, Assembly District 16 — Baker’s district — is one of the few competitive assembly districts in the state. She was elected in 2014, a year in which the beleaguered California Republican Party managed to claw back enough seats in the legislature to pass the one-third threshold and stop the Democrats from governing virtually at will.

Baker, who did not return a request for comment for this article, won an “amazing” race in 2014, but is one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the 2016 election.

The party apparatus in the area is mobilizing to protect her seat. And the Cruz campaign is hoping to take advantage of that core of activists to bring conservative voters to the polls.

In fact, in an interview with Breitbart News in early April, former state GOP chair Tom Del Beccaro, who hails from the East Bay (and is also running for U.S. Senate to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer), singled out Alameda County as a key to Cruz’s success in California: “Whether Cruz really has a superior organization will be evident if he wins in places like Alameda County — a place where Trump might otherwise do well in an open primary but Cruz may take because of superior organization.”

At the women’s dinner, several attendees wear Cruz for President stickers. Many are active in his campaign. There are Trump supporters, too, albeit more subdued.

Tri-Valley Republican Women (Joel Pollak / Breitbart News)

Though the meeting is cordial, tensions between the two sides are running high. As with other groups of Republican activists in the state, the overwhelming sentiment is a desire to put the rancor aside and unite behind a single candidate. Yet the competing passions behind each campaign have made that impossible to achieve.

On the west side of the district, across the impossibly verdant hills, there is little evidence of the pitched political battle to come. Muslim students in hijab stroll the grounds of California State University East Bay; young people of every conceivable ethnic background crowd into a Starbucks in a Union City strip mall.

Practically the only public comment on the election has been that of Hayward artist Andrew Kong Knight, who recently created a sculpture of a dung-spewing Donald Trump offering a Nazi salute.

That sort of hyperbole, calculated to marginalize Trump and his supporters, is exactly the kind of thing that might motivate local Trump fans to vote on June 7, offering a silent but potent form of resistance to the intolerance of their liberal neighbors.

There are more Republicans in the east than the west. But polls of the Bay Area in general — not specific to congressional districts — have indicated wide leads for Trump.

Turnout will decide the 15th — and, perhaps, the nomination.

 

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