It's hard to be a California Republican voter. In presidential elections, the state always sits warmly in the Democrats' hands. During the primaries, the nomination has usually been settled by the time Californians go to the polls. We're used to saying "our vote doesn't matter."
California's primary this year is June 7th, the very last day of the 2016 primary process. It's a rather boring fate for the most populous state in the country.
But California Republicans should take heart: this year, it's looking like their votes will be pivotal in ultimately determining the 2016 Republican presidential nominee.
Why will California be so important?
While Donald Trump has been winning primaries, he hasn't been winning by big enough margins to lock up enough delegates to claim the nomination. Here's the general consensus, however: assuming that Trump, Cruz, and Kasich remain locked in their three-way dual and continue winning states at the same pace, Trump will be within arm's reach of the required 1,237 delegates by June 7th, the last primary day of the year.
That would make June 7th a pivotal night for Trump. If he wins big, he may win the nomination in a photo finish. If he underperforms, he may trip at the finish line, and the GOP heads to a brokered convention.
Several states vote that day along with California, but the Golden State is a delegate gold mine (172) and a strong win for Trump in California could push him over the edge. That means, if this scenario plays out, California Republicans' vote will actually make a difference.
So who will win California?
A new poll out yesterday shows a race that could tighten in the coming months, with Trump in the lead but Cruz within striking distance.
However, a state-wide poll won't tell you the whole story, because the real battle will be fought in the state's congressional districts. Candidates are awarded 3 delegates per each district they win; California has 53 districts. Then, the remaining 13 delegates are awarded to whoever wins state-wide.
Who stands to benefit from this rule? I asked Reed Galen, an expert in California elections and the deputy campaign manager for Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2006 campaign:
"Given California's large number and disparate nature of congressional districts, those that have few Republicans, like South LA, are likely to go for Trump. Those with more Republicans that can be organized, a strength of Cruz, will probably go his way."
Trump has, historically, performed well in urban, liberal districts, and unfortunately for Ted Cruz, there are a bounty of those in California, clustered around Los Angeles and San Francisco. Trump would walk away with at least 117 delegates simply by winning each Democrat-controlled district. That would not be a fun night for Ted Cruz, and it looks like Trump has the advantage going in.
That being said, there are two caveats for Trump to keep in mind: California is a closed primary, meaning that only registered Republicans can vote, and those urban districts (especially around Los Angeles) have unusually high concentrations of Hispanic voters. Those factors may not hurt Trump, but they certainly won't help him.
Either way, its a good deal for Republican voters, who are used to having their votes dismissed.
Here's what makes this somewhat ironic...
You might be asking yourself how one of the most reliably Democratic states in the country came to have so many Republican delegates.
The Republican Party awards most of its delegates based on population. However, they also assign bonus delegates for "party loyalty," taking into consideration if the state voted for Romney last cycle (no), if they have a Republican governor (no), if they have Republican senators (no), and if either of the state legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans (no and no.)
California didn't receive any bonus delegates this year. It ranks near the bottom on the GOP's list of "loyal" states. There's no Republicans in state-wide office. Yet its voters may be pivotal in determining its future. Who would have seen that coming?