Capitol Alert

California Republican lawmakers’ presidential pick: ‘I don’t know’

Of the 42 Republican lawmakers in Sacramento, 11 support U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Of the 42 Republican lawmakers in Sacramento, 11 support U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. The Associated Press

A month before the first primaries of the 2016 election, California’s Republican lawmakers remain largely undecided on whom they support for president, though those who have committed overwhelmingly back U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

The Sacramento Bee surveyed the 42 Republican members of the state Senate and Assembly this week and found that more half do not know whom they would endorse. Of the 13 legislators who do have a favorite, all but two named Rubio. Nobody named Donald Trump.

It’s a sharp contrast from their constituents, who will weigh in during California’s June primary. In a Field Poll released Monday, a surging U.S Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas led with 25 percent of likely Republican voters in the state, followed closely by Trump, the controversial real estate mogul who stands at 23 percent. Rubio was third with 13 percent, about the same amount of respondents who remain undecided.

Some California lawmakers said they were looking for more information on the candidates’ positions or awaiting a signal on whom party leadership in Washington prefers before making up their minds. With 12 candidates still running and national polling that shows a race in constant flux, many planned to watch the jumbled field settle itself first.

“I’m still waiting to see how it will all pan out,” said Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, R-Escondido. “You never know what someone’s going to say, so I keep my powder dry.”

There can be an additional layer of consideration for politicians that does not concern ordinary voters: Endorse a winner and the relationship might benefit them as well, maybe even with an appointment down the line.

“Politics is amazingly selfish,” Republican political consultant Matt Rexroad said. “They don’t want to risk getting it wrong.”

Two legislators singled out Cruz, a favorite among evangelicals and tea party conservatives. Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, said Cruz offered “a youthful conservative vision vs. the over-bloated state-oriented politics that I think people are tired of.”

“Because of his past record as a U.S. senator as well as his positions as an attorney, I believe he’d be firmly committed to less government and more freedom,” Harper said. “Some peoples’ records are more spotty.”

But the vast majority of members who had a preference back Rubio, who is increasingly tipped as the mainstream contender with the best prospects in a race that has so far been dominated by outsiders and frustrated conservative activists.

Supporters cited Rubio’s potential as a unifying force for a country and a government that have become deeply divided along partisan lines.

“He appeals to a very diverse constituency,” Sen. Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said, “and that’s very important for being able to work across the aisle.”

Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, will serve as a co-chair for Rubio’s California campaign, helping to fundraise and organize voters. He said he was inspired by Rubio’s “passionate devotion to this country,” as well as his rise from humble beginnings in Miami, the son of Cuban immigrants.

“That’s what made America great – the melting pot country,” Nielsen said. “He’s the classic American success story.”

One name that did not come up – except with lawmakers who said they would “definitely not” be voting for him – was Trump’s. The front-runner in national polls since he jumped into the race last June, Trump has amassed a devoted following, and strong rebukes, for his campaign built in part on sharp criticisms of immigrants and Muslims.

“Angry does not produce great results,” Bates said. “You’ve got to present solutions and not just problems.”

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, was an early supporter of Scott Walker, whom he had met before and liked, until the Wisconsin governor dropped out of the race in September. Now Anderson is holding off from committing again when there are still “so many good candidates.”

“I’m the kiss of death,” he joked. “A lot of my colleagues are probably hoping I’ll endorse Trump.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

At a glance

Which presidential candidate do California Republican lawmakers support?

Marco Rubio:

Pat Bates, Bob Huff, Jim Nielsen, Janet Nguyen, Andy Vidak; Travis Allen, Ling-Ling Chang, James Gallagher, Tom Lackey, Kristin Olsen, Marc Steinorth

Ted Cruz:

Shannon Grove, Matthew Harper


Joel Anderson, Jean Fuller, Ted Gaines, John Moorlach, Mike Morrell, Sharon Runner; Katcho Achadjian, Catharine Baker, Frank Bigelow, Bill Brough, Rocky Chávez, Brian Dahle, Beth Gaines, David Hadley, Brian Jones, Young Kim, Eric Linder, Brian Maienschein, Devon Mathis, Chad Mayes, Melissa Melendez, Jay Obernolte Jim Patterson, Don Wagner, Marie Waldron

Declined to say:

Scott Wilk

Did not respond:

Tom Berryhill, Anthony Cannella, Jeff Stone