California Primary: The Final Showdown for 2016 Begins This Friday

California Republican Party (Neon Tommy / Flickr / CC / Cropped)
Neon Tommy / Flickr / CC / Cropped

The California primary will kick off this weekend as the California Republican Party holds its election-year state convention just minutes from San Francisco Airport, in the small Bay Area city of Burlingame.

The timing is crucial. On May 9, mail-in ballots will start to be mailed out in California, for an election that will basically take place over the course of an entire month.  While many will vote on June 7, it is expected that a majority of votes cast in the primary election will take place through the U.S. Postal Service.

Nothing quite says ‘California is in play” more than looking at the fact that all three remaining active candidates for the Republican nomination for President — business tycoon Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Ohio Governor John Kasich — will all be speaking at the convention.

The meeting is expected to bring thousands of Republican activists, donors and elected officials together from all around California over Friday and Saturday, Apr. 29 and 30. Journalists will also crowd the event, leading a valuable “earned media” angle to proceedings.

The convention will be the “opening bell” for the fight for 172 delegates on the Republican side, awarded largely by congressional district on a three-to-a-district, winner-takes-all basis. The final result may very well decide whether Trump goes into July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland as the presumptive nominee of the party, or whether he will short and delegates will face the “open convention” scenario that many have talked about.

Trump will open the convention with a lunchtime speech Friday that was originally scheduled to be a more intimate meal for the state GOP’s 100-member Executive Committee. This morning, state party chairman Jim Brulte told me that the lunch, which will now have more than 600 in the audience, sold out in less than 48 hours after Trump’s confirmation was e-mailed out by the party.

Speaking Friday night at a dinner banquet will be Governor Kasich, who will also be hosting a town-hall meeting in San Francisco during his swing through the area.

Saturday’s schedule is dominated by the Cruz campaign. The Senator himself will be speaking to a sold-out crowd at the lunch banquet, and then on Saturday night, former candidate (and now Cruz supporter) Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard, will headline the dinner banquet.

It will be interesting to see what message these candidates take to the Golden State in advance of this closed primary, where only registered Republicans can participate. (The Democratic primary allows “no party preference” voters to participate in their presidential voting by request.)

For those who love the spectacle of conventions, this one will have it all.  Not only will all of the supporters of the three Republican candidates be there in droves — with their signs, buttons and swag — but you cannot come that close to San Francisco (just twenty minutes up the freeway) without attracting droves of protestors.  There is no group of left-wing radicals on planet Earth that have perfected outrageous protests more than those from The City. It is going to be quite a show.

One thing that will not be taking place at this convention is delegate selection.  While across the country, Republicans have seen party regulars picking delegates and key convention committee representatives regardless of the primary vote, California is one of the few states where the candidates themselves actually submit a slate of delegates. Each of the campaigns must turn in a list of potential statewide and Congressional district delegates by May 8.  The candidate that receives the plurality of the vote (whether statewide or by district) has their delegates seated. Prior to the convention, all of the state’s delegates will meet, and at that time they will elect representatives who will serve on the various convention committees.

The party will have other business taking place at the convention.  Most notably is a bylaw proposal before delegates that would remove term limits from the office of Chairman, which would allow Brulte to run for additional terms.  Without a change, he would face term limits next spring. Also. the state party will take positions on the myriad of ballot measures that will be coming before California voters in November — which include tax increases, banning plastic grocery bags, legalizing pot, ending the death penalty, reforming the death penalty, requiring voter approval for major public works projects, and more.

It is safe to say that this will be the most well-attended and watched California GOP convention since Ronald Reagan was President.