Consultants: CA GOP Primary Now Looming Large


Mitt Romney’s staggering failure to solidify his electoral base has led most members of the Calbuzz California Consultanate, in six short weeks, to reverse their nearly unanimous prediction that the Latter Day Shapeshifter would soon wrap up the GOP presidential nomination.

To their surprise – and our delight – many on the Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything now say the June 5 California Republican primary, with its 172 delegates, may actually matter.

With Rick Santorum poised to hand Romney an embarrassing thumping in Michigan (one of his “home” states) next Tuesday, and with the frothy former senator leading Romney by six or seven percentage points nationally, it’s looking increasingly likely that no one can wrap up the nomination without California. Especially with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul continuing to grab their pesky shares of the vote.

“Romney is getting weaker as the process goes along and there is no incentive for Gingrich, Santorum or Paul to fold at this stage. So despite the cost, California will be a contest,” said one Republican member of our panel.

A Democratic panelist likened Romney’s dilemma to a challenge Purina Dog Chow might face: “Romney has an old advertising problem. Despite great packaging, clever ads and a super enriched formula, dogs don’t like it.”

The Schadenfreude some of our panelists are experiencing is almost palpable. Said one Democrat: “How Santorum, with one staffer somewhere in an office, is giving Romney such a fight in places like Michigan is just too much fun to watch.”

But another Democrat warned fellow partisans against getting what they’re hoping for. If the GOP race is still a battle for delegates in June, this panelist cautioned, “Democratic candidates for the Legislature and Congress better watch out for the undoubtedly huge increase in GOP turnout in the open [top-two] primary. It could make a strategy of coming in second in June, even in strong Democratic districts, much more difficult if there is a Republican in their race.”

Holy war in Golden State: Good point (Take note Howard Berman). But not one that dissuades Calbuzz from hoping against hope that the Republicans have to come campaign in California, with their hard-edged stands against a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, holy wars against gay marriage, choice and contraception and their full throated calls for off-shore oil drilling. If their stands are good enough for South Carolina and Michigan, we’d like to hear them here in the Golden State.

Not all Republicans, however, are thrilled with the prospect. Said one of our GOP panelists: “The last thing the Republicans need is three or four white guys slugging it out in front of the most diverse audience in the nation.”

Ironically, Romney’s problem right now in Michigan isn’t with voters angry that he once famously argued in a New York Times op-ed that: “If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.” That would be why he’d lose Michigan in a general election against President Obama. Instead his problem is with Tea Partiers and other knuckle-draggers on the right who think he’s back-tracking on that stand and is too wish-washy on everything else.

So he and the Super PACs supporting him are bashing Santorum from the right as the “ultimate Washington insider” who voted to raise the debt ceiling and for wasteful spending. Who knows where he stands? This guy couldn’t find himself with a divining rod in both hands. Which, despite all his fancy-pants campaign operation, is becoming increasingly clear to Republican voters.

Still, with enough carpeting bombing on TV, Romney could squash Santorum in the coming week. That might put the prospects for California mattering off again. But for now, it’s looking good for a race to the wire.

Here’s more of what our Consultanate panelists had to say.

Republicans first, since it’s their race

It’s likely that California could matter this year; the primary will continue to take twists and turns and may not be over by June.

— California may well matter again in presidential politics. It’s still too early to know but my best guess is that it will be important but somewhat anti-climactic. It will greatly help push the leading candidate — I’m still thinking it’s Romney — towards the required number of delegates necessary to be nominated. But it will be surprising if it ends up being one of the truly decisive contests of the race. The real key to the GOP battle is for Romney to finally develop a compelling message and set of issues to motivate and unite Republican voters. Until he does that, it looks like a convoluted contest to the dreary end.

— The odds are still against the California Republican Primary being meaningful, but if Santorum is able to upset Romney in his home state of Michigan, those odds are going to improve a bit.  It’s hard to imagine anyone else getting the nomination, given Romney’s edge in money and organization, but the longer he fails to land a knock-out blow, the greater the doubts he ever will.

— California will drive up Romney’s margin/mandate.  The primary is a marathon, not a sprint, and Romney has taken each “flavor of the month” candidate’s best shot and beaten them soundly.  Santorum is the next hurdle on the road to Tampa and then the White House.  

— Romney is releasing the dogs of war on Santorum, who has neither the heft nor resources to weather the storm (according to people inside Santorum’s camp).  He’ll wither before cresting the Sierras. Gingrich is done, and Paul is a sweet novelty act. But still, this will stretch out, so Romney needs to invest in California, since delegates here are apportioned based on how the GOP presidential contenders do in each congressional district — making it the perfect place for targeted cable and direct mail. Romney has the resources to compete and win here. His opponents don’t. Even though he’s having to work harder for it, Romney’s still likely to win the nomination.  But why not bring an extra 172 delegates to convention.

— Not to dodge but I have no idea until after Super Tuesday [March 6].

— Yes [California will matter]. Maybe it is his Mormon faith which prohibits gambling, but since Romney has shown his ineptitude at “running the table” (in the wake of his Florida romp) this nomination contest seems destined for a long slog.

— Who knows.  All depends on the results from Super Tuesday.

— Probably [California will matter]. The winner-take-all-by-congressional district means a mountain of delegates could go to one candidate. In the 2008 early primary, John McCain swept all but a couple and Romney dropped out. If all four are still running Romney should sweep up.

Democrats, the gleeful spectators

— Unless there’s an unexpected Michigan landslide one direction or the other, Romney’s permanent ceiling with the conservative base and bend-but-don’t-break electoral dysfunction virtually guarantees a long, excruciating, Bataan Death March slog to the nomination. So, yeah, hard to believe but California is going to be relevant.

— Things being where they are today, it is totally conceivable that the California GOP primary will matter. I would never have said that three weeks ago, but today it seems possible. Romney is certainly not wearing well the longer he stays front and center on the political stage; allowing for wing nuts like Gingrich and Santorum to hang in. And let’s not forget Ron Paul isn’t going anywhere…How Santorum with one staffer somewhere in an office is giving Romney such a fight in places like Michigan is just too much fun to watch…But the math indicates that it’s now hard to see a way, if all four stay in the race, that the primary season won’t extend at least into April and more likely through June…Face it Mitt, they don’t like you…they really, really don’t like you out there. 

— It is hard to imagine that even with the current inability of the GOP primary process to settle on a nominee (or even a front-runner) that this thing could go into June and still matter.  On the other hand, with Santorum looking strong in Rust Belt states like Michigan and Ohio and Newt perhaps poised to win in the South, those two could siphon off enough delegates that it could take Romney until June to actually reach the magic number

— Who knows where and when the music will stop in the GOP musical chairs primary, and who will be the last one sitting down. Michigan may well be Romney’s Waterloo, which would make the chances of California playing the kingmaker. Certainly, Newt Gingrich, by virtue of the time spent here this week, thinks so. As much as it seemed improbable a few weeks back, California may well be the decider.

— California may be the whole game.  It is likely that one of the existing candidates will need to win California to lock down enough delegates to clinch the nomination. Also a late entry in the California primary could succeed in blocking a nomination and force this to the convention. The race for Democratic nomination fight wasn’t close enough for Jerry Brown’s late success in 1976 to force a convention fight — this year could be different on GOP side.

— Looks like that could be the case. We may even be headed to the first modern era brokered convention.

— The California primary may matter, because it is mathematically possible that Romney does not end up with 1,144 delegates before then. Ron Paul’s back-room strategy is to work the delegate selection process hard in most states, and it is a multi-step process in many of them that takes place long after the caucus or primary is over — and the other candidates are gone. Because of the proportional distribution of delegates between now and April, all four candidates are likely to end up with sizable numbers of delegates. Of course, if it does come down to California, Romney will have to be careful that he doesn’t get distracted by checking on the tear-down of his La Jolla mansion and the construction of his new $12 million “second home” replacement mansion there.

— It will not matter in the long run because Obama will win. If this is the.best the.Republicans can put forward it may be time to start a new party…. California won’t matter because Newt, Ron Paul and Santorum do not have the infrastructure for the grinding task of securing delegates in all the states.  California is too late in the process. 

— There is a 50% chance of California primary being in play.

— Conventional wisdom says no. Santorum and Gingrich don’t have the infrastructure or money to go the distance…However, Romney can’t close the deal with Republican primary voters. Maybe, just maybe, our political junkie dreams come true and California matters.

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There are 6 comments for this post

  1. avatar tonyseton says:

    Obviously you need a new Consultanate. Or none at all. You’re smart enough, most of the time. And thank you for that.

  2. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    Excellent and perceptibly accurate analysis of the 2012 California Republican primary. (Of course I write this opinion because on this subject our thinking is congruent.) Your eagerness to be politically correct triumphed in this piece. Thank you.

  3. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    What a novel idea from one of your GOP contributors.

    I agree. I think it’s high time governor Romney came out with some policies and plans. Saying he’s for whatever everybody else is for has taken him as far as it’s going to. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who wonders what the man stands for–on anything.

  4. avatar JohnF says:

    I think it would be fun if they brought their negative campaign to California. I remember well the success that Meg Whitman had and she was Miss Positive, when compared to Mutt Romney and Ricky S

  5. avatar richardwinger says:

    This story would be better if it referred to California’s system as a “top-two primary”. “Open primary” has been defined in political science textbooks since 1907, and in US Supreme Court opinions starting in 1972, as a system in which each party has its own primary and its own nominees, but on primary day any voter is free to choose any party’s primary ballot. But in California, there are no more party primary ballots or party nominees (except for President). Prop. 14 was not on the ballot as “open primary”.

    What will we do if there is a future initiative to have a true open primary in California, if CalBuzz and certain other media outlets have hopelessly muddled the definition of “open primary”?

    • avatar patwater says:

      Good point. Remember though that this exact same issue happened with prop 198, passed back in ’96 – so it’s not purely a hypothetical: http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/California_Proposition_198,_the_Open_Primary_Act_(1996)

      The system it created (a voter of any party can vote for a candidate of any party) seems congruent to what you describe. Note though that the Supreme Court struck it down in 2000 b/c it violated the 1rst Amendment / freedom of association so there’s bigger hurdles than semantics for such a system to be revived.

      The genesis of top-two (distinct from open primaries as you point out), as I understand it, was in no small part an effort to work within that legal reality.



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