Usually when the California presidential primary rolls around, it is a meaningless exercise because the frontrunners in both parties have clinched the nominations already. That will likely be the case again this year on the Democratic side (sorry, Bernie Bros.). But the Republican Party is having a race like no one expected, and with (at press time) Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich still in the running, there is a very good chance that they will still be battling it out when California’s June 7 primary election day arrives.
Not only will California matter, but specifically San Francisco will matter. To get insight into why this is so, we spoke with Melissa Caen, a political analyst for CBS San Francisco and a practicing attorney.
Usually, when the presidential primaries come around to California, it’s snoozeville.
True. In 2012, by April, Mitt Romney had all of the votes he needed to wrap up the nomination. So California literally meant zero when we went to the polls.
This year, it could very well be a live thing, especially for the Republicans. How does the GOP run its primaries in California?
Each state decides its own system. In California, the reason things are the way they are is that the Republican Party has determined that that’s how things are going to be run. In California, each candidate for the presidential nomination has to submit a list of 172 names of people who would [be their delegates]. This has already happened at the end of last year. Say I’m Ben Carson; I have submitted a list of 172 people who would serve as delegates if I were to win all 172 delegates.
In California, there are 10 statewide delegates. Whoever gets the most votes gets all of those statewide delegates. The rest of them are broken out by congressional district. Each congressional district is also a winner-take-all. So I’ve got my Ben Carson list of three names for District 12, which is where San Francisco is; if he got the most votes, all three of those people would go [to the Republican National Convention].
So if you’re a Republican candidate, to win the delegates, do you go to the most conservative districts?
The smarter money is to go to the less-conservative districts. If you look at District 12, San Francisco, we have very few Republicans. So to win here, you don’t have to win as many votes. You only need to win over a couple thousand people to get the most votes in a Republican primary in a liberal district. In a more conservative district, you’ve got to convince larger numbers of people. So the smarter money — and I understand Ted Cruz is one of the few people to have picked up on this — is campaigning and aiming at the Republicans in the blue districts.
Can only Republicans vote in the Republican primary? It’s a closed primary?
That’s right. For Republicans, only Republicans can vote in their primary. Non-affiliated voters can vote in the Democratic primary. So if you’re a decline-to-state voter, as I am, you have a choice of either not voting at all or voting in the Democratic primary. I can’t vote in the Republican primary.
So, for your readers who want to get involved — maybe they have a burning desire to vote against or for certain folks in the Republican race — they would need to register as Republicans before the primary so they can get that ballot.
How do you get involved? You can’t be a delegate; that’s already done. But if you want to participate, then for those independent people or decline-to-state people, they need to quickly get in there and register as a Republican.
That means they can vote. I assume that means Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Donald Trump will be courting them with events. Will that be happening? Will Republicans in the Marina be holding soirées with these people?
Yes, I think we will actually see some campaigning. Now, in a blue district like ours, you’re probably not going to see big media buys. In a blue district where there are few Republicans, it’s going to be more targeted; more mailers, more events. They’re cheaper ways to get at this small group. The big media buys you’re going to see in Orange County, Central Valley, places like that.
But in places like here, there will be people calling, there will be mailers. That’s something I think a lot of people are excited about. Republicans especially. Republicans in San Francisco just feel like they’re in Siberia. To finally get some love from a potential presidential candidate would be exciting for them.
Is this really the last chance for Bay Area Republicans to have much of a say in the election other than giving money, because in the general election the state will go pretty solidly blue, yes?
Oh, there’s no chance of a Republican winning in California in a presidential election, at this point in time.
So this is their chance to genuinely have an impact?
That’s right. This is their time to shine, to make conversation, to go to the parties, to contribute the money, to be active for their candidate. Because when it comes to the general election, if [the Democratic nominee] is Hillary or even if it’s Bernie, it’s pretty clear that California’s going to go [blue].