Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz made his public debut in California on Monday, proclaiming the state a potential last stand in his battle for delegates with frontrunner Donald Trump.
The Golden State does not vote for nearly two months, when it awards 172 delegates — the most of any state — as part of the final round of primaries on June 7. But after a series of jaunts to collect campaign cash behind closed doors, the Texas senator took the stage Monday morning in Orange County — the biggest red county in a blue state — for his first rally on California soil.
"This is the birthplace of the Reagan Revolution, and let me tell you, there's a new revolution brewing," Cruz declared. "Just like 1980, it's going to be California that's going to decide, California that's going to lead the way."
Cruz later offered a prediction he guessed has not been put forward for 50 years: "California is going to decide the Republican nomination for president."
Cruz's campaign has been eying California as a linchpin in its strategy to reach the 1,237 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination — or at least keep Trump from hitting the same target. Cruz's campaign is confident it can win the state, claiming in an internal memo last month that it was on track to receive at least 55 percent of the vote. Recent polls have put the Texas senator within striking distance of Trump.
Cruz's campaign has been building support in the state for months — it named a California chairman, Ron Nehring, in May of last year — and on first glance, appears to have another superior organization that could outfox Trump's knack for winging it. Yet given its size and population, California could also hold promise for a candidate like Trump who tends to be more ubiquitous on the air than the ground.
"Cruz has the ability to do well in those places where he can organize, but the question is whether in a state of 38 million … can he dominate the earned media space where Trump just does it all the time?" asked Reed Galen, an unaligned GOP strategist from the state.
Cruz acknowledged in an interview Monday morning on San Diego radio that when he launched his campaign, he did not expect California to play a role in picking the GOP nominee. "But nobody anticipated Donald Trump," Cruz said.
After a few days under the radar, the billionaire was back in the spotlight Monday, complaining that Cruz's campaign cheated him out of support in Colorado. On Saturday, Cruz completed a sweep of all 34 delegates that were up for grabs in the state.
"The latest thing he seized upon is when people vote against him, they're stealing the election. It's a really odd notion," Cruz said in Irvine, drifting into an impersonation of a flummoxed Trump. "'What is this democracy of which you speak? You mean, voters get to vote?'"
In California, voters will have their say in 53 congressional districts, which award three delegates each on a winner-take-all basis. The other 13 delegates go to the winner of the statewide vote. Organized campaigns can be expected to vet slates of 318 delegates, three for every congressional district and three alternates.
In Irvine, Cruz wasted no time tailoring his stump speech for the locals, appealing to Californians who have long lived under the policies of a state largely controlled by Democrats. It is a routine Cruz has employed in other blue states, including Illinois, which voted March 15, and New York, the site of the next major primary on April 19.
"California, you know this well," Cruz said while ticking through his economic proposals. "You've got a state government who thinks the solution for prosperity is more taxes, more regulations, hammer small businesses and chase people out of the state of California. Well, let me tell you: Relief is coming to the people of California, and it's coming by getting Washington off your back."
Yet California Republicans have also had problems with members of their own party, including former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a movie star whose views were often at odds with those of Golden State conservatives. As Cruz's supporters rally opposition to Trump in California, the specter of the former governor has not gone unmentioned.
"One of the messages that we've been bringing to people is that California has already done the drill of a rich celebrity running for office and saying to everybody, 'Take our words for it,'" said Michael Schroeder, a co-chair of Cruz's campaign in California. "When I spoke at different caucuses in Iowa and Nevada, I said, 'Look, we've been to this show. We know how it comes out. It's ugly. Do not go there.'"
Cruz was scheduled to round out his day in California with a rally Monday night in San Diego. To coincide with the trip, Cruz's campaign Monday afternoon rolled out 50 endorsements from California Republicans, many of them from the GOP strongholds of Orange and San Diego counties. Among the new supporters was Diane Harkey, a member of the Board of Equalization who counts as the state's highest-ranking elected Republican.