Dan Morain: Stumping for Ted Cruz on Nancy Pelosi’s turf

Marco Rubio will drop by the Sutter Club on Tuesday to carry on the grand presidential campaign tradition of raising money in California. Tom Canaday will be doing something very different: drumming up support for Ted Cruz in the heart of Nancy Pelosi’s district.

Canaday is a typical San Franciscan, which means he’s atypical. He has lived in a rent-controlled apartment in the Mission District for 25 years and sees no need for a car, relying instead on his feet, Uber and Muni to get from here to there.

In a city where 7.98 percent of the registered voters are Republicans, Canaday is an “across-the-board conservative” and became so enthralled by Cruz that he sought out his California campaign strategists and said: “Put me in, coach.”

Canaday, 55, works six-and-a-half days a week for Cruz, taking time out for church at an evangelical congregation, and to make it over to the Uptown, a dive bar not far from his apartment, to catch Warriors games.

He gave $25 to Cruz, the first time he had ever contributed to a candidate, set up a “Cruz for President” Facebook page and visited a San Francisco button maker to print “Cruz for President” buttons. The guy at the counter said they were the first “Cruz for President” buttons anyone had asked him to make.

To my eye, Cruz seems humorless, angry and rigid, not the sort of person who should be president of our centrist nation. But any student of California politics ought to admire his strategy. Like all presidential candidates, Cruz depends on California for money. He will be shaking the Southern California money tree next week. Unlike the other Republicans, however, he is taking California primary voters seriously.

Cruz has promised to run a 50-state primary strategy, competing in every state for the nomination. That means he needs a strategy that takes into account California’s 53 congressional districts. Under Republican rules, most of this state’s 172 Republican delegates are allocated by the winner of each congressional district.

If the nominee is not obvious by the June 7 primary, which is unlikely, Republican candidates would need to compete in San Francisco, Berkeley and Democrat-dominated downtown Sacramento, as well as in Reps. Tom McClintock, Doug LaMalfa and Dana Rohrabacher’s red districts.

Ron Nehring, a former California Republican Party chairman and the 2014 GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, is Cruz’s California campaign chairman and has done the state-by-state math.

Iowa holds its caucuses on Feb. 1, followed by New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The four February states account for 133 of the 2,470 Republican delegates.

Republicans in 13 states, including Cruz’s home state of Texas, will vote for the candidate of their choice on March 1. Once people in Florida vote on March 15, 61 percent of the delegates will have been chosen. Several other states will vote in April and May.

If history is a guide, the Republican nomination will be locked up long before Californians go to the polls on June 7. But if it isn’t obvious, our blue state could become the final important stop en route to the Republican National Convention next July in Cleveland.

“We are preparing for California to matter,” Nehring said.

To that end, the Muni-riding, Warrior-rooting, rent-controlled resident of Nancy Pelosi’s district will be integral. Canaday grew up a liberal and voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. But “you get older, study politics, get more serious about religious faith” and change, he said.

A Michigan native, he went to Cal and worked as an aerospace engineer, later for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and recently cashed out of a Mangalitsa pig business. He reared the wooly beasts in Iowa and sold them to high-end restaurants such as The French Laundry.

Why Iowa? Not everyone wants to live next to a pig farm, he patiently explained, and Iowa is the pig capital of the nation, if not the world, so that’s where the pig infrastructure is. (I asked.)

Today, eight months from the convention, Cruz stands a reasonable chance of becoming the nominee, better than most, though he would have to get past Rubio, his fellow freshman senator. If he does, Canaday rightly will be able to take a bow.

“I love it that every congressional district in California matters. ... Here in San Francisco, here in Nancy Pelosi’s district, we have a reason to get involved. I love that,” Canaday said.

However, he noted, he doesn’t display his “Cruz for President” button when he settles in at the Uptown. He may be a San Francisco conservative, but the man isn’t nuts.