The biggest California primary since Goldwater beat Rockefeller

California’s primary comes at a time when the number of registered Republicans in the state has dwindled. High tax rates and a declining economy have led businessmen and entrepreneurs elsewhere. “Our base is leaving,” says Republican national committeeman Shawn Steel. “We export Republicans.” The phenomenon has created a gulf between core party activists and the state’s rank-and-file Republicans. The former are by and large traditional conservatives who prefer Cruz to Trump, but there is considerable disagreement as to the ideological makeup of the latter, those whom Steel calls “Walmart moms.” The heated battles that have taken place in so many places across the country since 2010 have hit California so infrequently that its ideological temperature has rarely been measured, at least on the Republican side. Given its size, its varying geography, and its diverse population — coastal cities to the West, arid farmland to the East, plus large Vietnamese and Hispanic populations — it also presents political campaigns with a complex landscape, essentially several different states within a state. All of these factors have left political onlookers scratching their heads six weeks out from the crucial contest, unsure which candidate will prevail in California — and go on to take the nomination. Trump boasts a 17-point lead in the latest Real Clear Politics polling average, and though just a handful of public polls have been conducted over the last month, there is broad agreement that he will enter California with the upper hand. The fusion of politics and entertainment that the former Apprentice host represents is a built-in advantage, particularly in a state that twice elected Arnold Schwarzenegger governor. “If Trump did nothing at all except get delegates listed with the secretary of state’s office, he would still be very competitive,” says Steel, whose wife Michelle, the Orange County supervisor, has endorsed Cruz.

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