With a month to go before the June primary, the California Republican Party gathers in San Diego today for its 2018 convention, to rally the faithful and endorse candidates. (California Democrats met in February at the same spot, where an ideological fracture was on display, despite — or perhaps because of — the party's utter domination of state politics.) Here are some key issues to watch for at the GOP confab, which lasts until Sunday. The Capitol Alert Twitter account will have updates throughout the weekend.
- Gubernatorial endorsement: Thanks to a rule change, the California Republican Party could for the first time this year back a candidate in the governor's race before the primary. Party officials were hoping to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing 2016 scenario when no GOP hopeful made the runoff for U.S. Senate; now, they are facing the prospect of a similar outcome, with even more dire consequences. The good news is that a recent poll showed the major Republican contenders, Assemblyman Travis Allen and businessman John Cox, surging into a tight battle for second place. That should only amp up the stakes as they battle for delegates' support before the Sunday vote. Reaching the 60 percent threshold necessary for the endorsement will be tough, but it could provide a significant boost for either Allen, whose fundraising has been unable to keep pace with Cox's deep pockets, or Cox, who has not been embraced by party activists with the same fervor as Allen.
- Rhetoric: With Democrats across the country fired up this year to take on President Donald Trump, California Republicans are looking to rile up their own voters and avoid a blue wave in the November midterm election. Efforts are underway to qualify an initiative that would overturn the gas tax increase passed last year by Sacramento Democrats, while city and county officials across the state have been fanning a growing backlash to the "sanctuary state" law that limits the ability of California law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. What issues offer the most red meat for the delegates?
- Congress: As Republicans fight to maintain control of the House of Representatives this fall, significant battlegrounds have opened up in eight GOP-controlled districts in California. And the possibility of no Republican at the top of the ticket, if neither Cox nor Allen makes it through the gubernatorial primary, has raised alarms about dampened enthusiasm in November that could hurt congressional candidates across the state. The convention is an opportunity to raise the profile of individuals like Rep. Mimi Walters of Irvine, who will deliver the keynote address on Friday night. After Hillary Clinton carried her congressional district in the last presidential election, Democrats made Walters one of their top targets in 2018.
- Trump factor: At two conventions last year, California Republicans celebrated the new president and concluded that becoming more like him was their path back to victory in the Golden State. But despite overwhelming support from the GOP here, Trump is still widely detested in California, where independents are on the verge of overtaking Republicans in voter registration. Will the the reality of a rough road ahead this election cycle dull delegates' zeal for the president at all? And is a nascent movement, led by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to find a "new way" forward for the California GOP through the political center gaining any traction?
- Speakers: Controversial figures Steve Bannon, Trump's former campaign strategist, and Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who was pardoned by Trump after being convicted of contempt for ignoring a court order to stop targeting immigrants, generated massive attention when they addressed the California GOP's convention last October. This weekend should be quieter. Top invitees include Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Linda McMahon, the professional wrestling magnate who now runs the Small Business Administration.
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