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Capitol Journal: Here’s how Ted Cruz could win California

Texas Senator Ted Cruz leaves a campaign press conference at Landmark Aviation FBO, located just south of LAX, last December.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz leaves a campaign press conference at Landmark Aviation FBO, located just south of LAX, last December.

(Los Angeles Times)

California seems set up for Ted Cruz — procedurally and demographically — to seriously muck up Donald Trump’s path to the Republican presidential nomination.

That’s on paper. Whether the Texas senator can pull it off, well, that’s about as clear as Trump’s muddled thinking on policy issues.

Trump is reckless. But Cruz isn’t exactly lovable. He’s stomach-turning. And he’s not the least bit entertaining, unlike the billionaire blowhard.

But Cruz is a hardcore conservative. And that could appeal to the GOP’s dwindling numbers in this deep blue state.

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Trump’s philosophical guideposts are suspect for many Republicans.

“I’m an ideological conservative, and people can disagree with me,” says Jon Fleischman, an influential blogger and former state party official. “But no one can say I don’t have a well-thought out philosophy. Donald Trump’s ideology is himself…

“Also, I don’t know that Trump has the temperament to be president.”

Fleischman recently endorsed Cruz.

In California’s June 7 presidential primary — among the last in the nation — only registered Republicans will be allowed to vote in the GOP contest. Unlike the Democratic race, no nonpartisans will be permitted. That should help Cruz.

After Cruz’s big win in Wisconsin Tuesday, it’s looking increasingly like California’s late primary will have a major impact on the GOP nomination. That hasn’t happened since 1964.

Another thing that theoretically should help Cruz is that he’s of Hispanic heritage — his father was a Cuban immigrant — in a state with a rapidly growing Latino population. No, they’re not all Democrats.

There are 14 California congressional districts — out of 53 — where at least 20% of registered Republicans are Latinos, according to Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc. The average Latino share of the GOP electorate in those districts is 34%.

“Cruz has an advantage in these districts for sure,” Mitchell says.

But Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant and the grandson of Mexican immigrants, isn’t so sure.

Cruz’s position on illegal immigration, after all, isn’t much different than Trump’s. True, unlike Trump, he hasn’t called Mexicans who came here illegally rapists, drug dealers and violent criminals. But, like Trump, he advocates deporting them and building a border wall.

“Cruz has never been a favorite of the Latino community,” Madrid says. “He’s getting support only because they hate Trump so much. Your choice is Trump or Cruz? Good luck….

“Cruz needs to get out of Huntington Beach and start campaigning in Huntington Park. That’s the only way he wins. For the first time in his life, he has to campaign among Latino Republicans and embrace his Latino heritage.”

Those neighborhoods with significant numbers of Republican Latinos are in districts heavily dominated by Democrats. But under the California GOP’s delegate-selection rules, all districts are allotted the same number of convention delegates: Three.

That’s the illogical paradox. For example: The Los Angeles congressional district represented by Democrat Xavier Becerra, with only about 29,000 registered Republicans, is entitled to three convention delegates. So is Republican Mimi Walters’ Orange County district, with more than 160,000 GOP voters.

Put another way, there is one presidential-nominating delegate for roughly every 9,700 Republican voters in Becerra’s district. But there’s only one for every 53,000 in Walters’ district.

It’s winner-take-all in each district. The candidate who receives the most votes district-wide captures all three delegates. In addition, the statewide winner will be awarded 10. All these 169 delegates will be selected by and committed to the candidates. Plus, three state party leaders will be unpledged delegates — for a grand California total of 172, roughly 14% of the 1,237 needed to nominate.

Democratic rules make more sense. They reward party loyalty. The more Democratic a district is, the more delegates it gets.

The Republican system, however, does make it efficient to target Democratic districts. There are fewer GOP voters to reach, and the prize is as great as in heavily Republican areas. Moreover, for Cruz, the urban Democratic districts are where so many Republican Latinos reside.

“As an Orange County activist,” Fleischman says, “I will be walking precincts in South Central L.A. That’s where my energy is better spent.

“If you’re a Republican in some of these districts,” he adds, “you’re kind of hardcore. There’s every reason for you not to be a registered Republican, and yet you are. Where Ted Cruz has an advantage is he will have a huge grass-roots campaign.”

Madrid again is skeptical. “Trump is a creature of the media,” he says. “There’s no more media state than California. Who is in the commanding position? Trump. If these [grass-roots] folks had the capacity to build in those [Democratic] districts, we wouldn’t be in such a bad position there.”

Fearing Trump could soil the party beyond cleansing, Republican consultant Rob Stutzman has organized a super PAC to deny the front-runner delegates to clinch the nomination before the national convention. And he’ll be targeting Democratic districts. “Republicans may need to understand that voting for Cruz is a way to have an open convention,” Stutzman says.

A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times statewide poll found Trump leading Cruz by 37% to 30% with Ohio Gov. John Kasich trailing badly at 12%. But among Latinos, Cruz led 33% to 26% with Kasich at 4%, and 36% essentially threw up their hands.

There’s bound to be more Trump shock and outrage in the two months before the state primary. One thing seems certain: The path to an open convention is through California — if Cruz can find it.

george.skelton@latimes.com

Follow @LATimesSkelton on Twitter

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