Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz is holding campaign rallies in San Diego and Irvine, Calif., Monday, despite his competitors' focus on New York.
With California's primary roughly two months away, it seems strange that Sen. Cruz – who hopes to lead a conservative revolution – would devote valuable campaign time to the West Coast. But Cruz's campaign stops in California this week might say something about the Texas senator's strategy for two upcoming very blue, yet also very delegate-rich, states.
The New York primary on April 19 has 95 delegates at stake – only California, Texas, and Florida have more. But a new Fox News poll released Sunday has Trump winning New York with 54 percent of support among GOP primary voters, followed by John Kasich with 22 percent and finally Cruz in third, with 15 percent. A Monmouth poll from last week found similar results: Trump could win 52 percent of the vote, with Kasich at 25 percent and Cruz in third with 17 percent. In other words, Cruz is already writing off New York and turning to California, which might actually be a smart idea.
"If the state is rarely considered a bastion of Cruz-style conservative purity, campaign aides have been much more bullish on California than many of the other states remaining on the calendar, including New York," explains The New York Times's Matt Flegenheimer, who reported that an internal Cruz memo projected he would win at least 55 percent of California votes.
Outside polls don't grant Cruz such a generous victory, but as far as blue-leaning states go, it looks as though he has a far better chance in California than in New York. According to a poll conducted last week by the Field Research Corporation, Trump has a seven-point lead over Cruz in the California primary, at 39 to 32 percent.
But this same poll suggests that Republican primary voters are divided geographically, as several regions overwhelmingly support Cruz despite an overall loss. In Los Angeles County and the Central Valley/Sierras region, Cruz beats Trump by 11 and nine points, respectively.
And the California primary system works in Cruz's favor. Only registered Republicans are allowed to vote in the state’s Republican primary, but 40 percent of Trump’s supporters are unregistered with either political party, according to a December analysis from The New York Times.
Yet Californian Republicans have a history of supporting 'celebriticians,' such as Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Field poll found that Trump's celebrity could be working in his favor for the primary: voters who say they voted for Schwarzenegger in 2003 prefer Trump over Cruz nearly three to one.
"Trump is a creature of the media," Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant, tells the Los Angeles Times. "There's no more media state than California. Who is in the commanding position? Trump."
Cruz's California pivot is also surprising considering the state's late primary date. Despite having more delegates than any other state, California rarely has a serious impact on party nominees.
In the 2012 GOP primary, only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul remained in the candidate race at the end of April. For all purposes, however, it was a one-man race. By the time California's primary rolled around on June 5, Romney had won every primary for the past two months. So while Romney left the Golden State with all 169 Republican delegates, he had already been deemed the presumptive nominee.
"One thing seems certain: The path to an open convention is through California – if Cruz can find it," writes The LA Times's George Skelton. By campaigning in California this week, Cruz is assuring Trump, the American voters, and his own campaign that he will not let Trump walk into the Republican convention in July without a fight.