This weekend’s California Republican Party convention in Burlingame marks the unofficial start of the California primary.
While Democrats seem to be resigning themselves to Hillary Clinton’s eventual nomination, the state’s June 7 contest will still be decisive for Republicans. Frontrunner Donald Trump may need about 270 of the remaining 502 delegates to win the nomination outright. 172 of those delegates are in California. And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has a good chance to stop him.
Recent polls show Trump surging in the state. But, as the old saying goes, polls don’t vote. In California, delegates are won by congressional district. And among Republicans, a plurality of the vote is enough to take all three delegates in each district. And five-and-a-half weeks is a long time in politics.
With that in mind, here are three possible scenarios for the California result.
Scenario #1: Trump wins big. With his recent clutch of wins in the northeast, and a possible win in Indiana May 3, Trump may roll into California with unstoppable momentum. He will defend his strong leads in the San Francisco Bay Area, along the Central Coast, and in Southern California (outside Los Angeles and the Inland Empire). He will even seize territory from Cruz in his Central Valley stronghold, perhaps taking Fresno and districts near Sacramento. Cruz will be held to no more than 14 of the state’s 53 congressional districts, and Kasich will be a non-factor, losing to Trump in liberal metropolitan districts.
This scenario assumes that Cruz’s highly-organized ground game will be unable to counter Trump’s dominance in earned media, and that Cruz’s early choice of Carly Fiorina as his running mate will have little impact in a state she lost badly in her 2010 Senate race. It also presumes no major gaffes or organizational snafus by Trump over the 40 days until Election Day.
Scenario #2: Cruz wins. While it may seem unlikely, given the current news cycle and the polls, Cruz could pull off a huge upset in California by mobilizing a committed core of activists throughout the state. In addition to holding the dozen or so districts in the Central Valley, he will need to maximize his ground game advantage in the peri-urban districts on the outskirts of Los Angeles and San Francisco. He will also need to poach districts from Trump in areas where the billionaire is currently leading in the polls, including Alameda County in the norther, and parts of Orange and San Diego counties in the south. And Cruz will need to work carefully with Kasich, minimizing the Kasich vote in conservative districts but boosting it in the cities.
In early April, Breitbart News projected that while Trump was likely to win the state, Cruz could win up to 118 delegates — 70% of the total — under a best-case scenario. That would not only deny Trump a 1,237-delegate overall majority, but would also make a strong case for Cruz as the strongest candidate on a second ballot at the Republican National Convention in July.
Scenario #3: Trump wins small. Breitbart News recently projected that if the California primary were held today, Trump would win 106 delegates, Cruz would win 66, and Kasich would win none. That may sound impressive: conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who is from California, predicted last week that Trump would not even reach 100. But even 106 delegates would likely be too few for Trump to reach the 1,237-delegate threshold required to clinch the nomination on the first ballot.
Trump will argue that coming close enough to a majority, and defeating all other contenders by a wide margin, ought to be enough for the party to award him the nomination. But Cruz, and the “Never Trump” contingent, will disagree — and the party will face a contested convention. That painful — or thrilling — outcome is still probably the likeliest of the three scenarios.
It is up to California Republicans — that oft-neglected, much-maligned band — to decide which of these will come to fruition.
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.