Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is mounting an organizational blitz to win over California’s most committed Republican activists, part of a do-or-die effort to deny Donald Trump a win in the state with the largest number of delegates and force a contested convention.
Cruz’s campaign is counting on victories in Indiana, which votes Tuesday, and California, which votes June 7, to block Trump from winning enough delegates to secure the Republican nomination outright. The two states have the largest number of delegates in the remaining 10 contests.
“California is going to be make-or-break for everybody,” said Michael Schroeder, political director for the Cruz campaign in California. “If we win Indiana, Trump is going to need two-thirds to three-fourths of the votes in California, which I don’t see as very likely.”
Cruz, who trails Trump in polls in both states, vowed a fierce campaign in California during a speech Saturday at the state Republican Party convention near San Francisco. His campaign had the most visible presence at the gathering of 1,000 party leaders and activists, with red-shirted Cruz volunteers collecting voters’ home and email addresses, and Cruz stickers and signs ubiquitous in the convention hotel. In an office nearby, a dozen Cruz volunteers staffed a phone bank.
“Year after year y’all are used to being treated by Republicans like an ATM, to take your money and spend it in other states,” Cruz told more than 500 party activists. “Well I can tell you right now, we’re going to spend more money in California than we raise in California.”
Cruz said his campaign has plans to compete in each of California’s 53 congressional districts, each of which will give three delegates to the top vote-getter. The state awards other delegates, too, for a total of 172; a candidate needs 1,237 delegates to win the nomination outright.
“It is going to be a battle on the ground, district by district, by district,” he said.
He spoke at a fundraiser in Santa Barbara on Saturday evening as his vice presidential choice, Carly Fiorina, told the state party convention that Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, are part of a corrupt Washington establishment.
Cruz’s campaign began airing a TV ad in Indiana calling Trump and Clinton “two sides of the same coin” because of their similar positions on the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, taxes, and some other policies. The campaign is pressing the same argument in California and is targeting committed Republican voters with phone calls, said Rohit Joy, the party chairman in the Bay Area’s Contra Costa County and a Cruz backer.
“The targeting effort is critical in a state like California,” he said, noting the separate contests by congressional district.
Trump led Cruz by more than 17 percentage points in the state in the RealClearPolitics average of polls in the state on Monday. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is in third place. All three candidates spoke at the state party convention, a detour from campaigning in Indiana.
Cruz and Fiorina both calibrated their pitches to California’s Central Valley, where farmers have clashed with environmentalists over water policy. Cruz said California regulators are wrongly prioritizing freshwater Delta smelt over the needs of farmers to irrigate their fields.
“In my experience, three-inch fish go great with cheese and crackers,” Cruz said.
The line elicited chuckles, but Cruz, like Trump and Kasich, drew muted responses from party activists.
California’s most powerful Republican, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said Monday he isn’t endorsing in the primary but would back either Cruz or Trump if he wins the nomination. Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, McCarthy said he’s not worried that Trump could jeopardize Republican control of Congress.
“I think we’re going to easily retain the majority,” McCarthy said.
The divisions among California Republicans echo the disarray in the national contest, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, who teaches political science at the University of Southern California and who attended the state convention.
“I don’t see a groundswell of support for any one candidate,” she said.
Cruz trailed Trump by about 9 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of Indiana polls on Monday. If Cruz wins the state, Trump would need a dominant showing throughout California to clinch the nomination on the first ballot at the national convention in Cleveland.