Celeste Greig of Northridge said she will be sitting at a VIP table when Donald Trump gives his address Friday to Republican activists in Burlingame.
Jeannie Foulkrod plans to travel from Southern California to the state GOP’s weekend convention. She likes Ted Cruz, but couldn’t nab a prized ticket to his speech on Saturday.
“Its going to be a lot more exciting,” said Autumn Frank-Stoff, a longtime GOP delegate from San Diego who did get tickets to see Trump and Cruz, events that have long-since sold out. John Kasich and Carly Fiorina also are scheduled to give speeches.
Not since Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller competed for the party’s nomination in 1964 have California Republicans been so relevant in a presidential primary, and the action at this weekend’s convention is the result.
California for years has been irrelevant when it comes to retail campaigning among Republicans, either because the presidential primary has already been decided by the time it reaches here, or because it’s been written off by the candidate as too Democratic to win in a November election. This year, however, Trump won’t gather enough delegates to clinch the nomination until the June 7 primary, when California votes.
Trump will kick off the packed 24 hours on the heels of a Thursday evening rally in Costa Mesa, where he replayed for a cheering crowd he estimated at 31,000 – others estimated no more than 9,000 – the greatest hits of his standard stump speech.
“We have a movement. This isn’t like a normal situation,” he said.
For his speech Friday, protesters will gather outside the Hyatt Regency hotel. One of the organizers, Alycia Moore, wrote on Facebook that she was looking for musicians to play “covers or original songs about peace and equality.”
Cruz’s speech is set for Saturday, with Fiorina, his newly named running mate, addressing delegates that night.
“It’s obviously going to be a zoo,” said Foulkrod, a delegate from the Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego.
She said she didn’t get tickets to the major events because at the time she did not know the top candidates were going. It costs $100 apiece to attend the speeches ($300 for the VIP reception, which includes a photo with the speakers). After seeing Cruz, a senator from Texas, give a recent talk in San Diego, Foulkrod came away feeling like he was personable, intelligent and trustworthy, and that their views on issues aligned.
She predicted his vice presidential selection of Fiorina, a former Californian who lost to Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010, could help with GOP voters.
“A lot of people don’t know that she’s moved away,” she said.
Fiorina adds to Cruz’s appeal, said Frank-Stoff, who works in real estate. She lauded Cruz’s adherence to the Constitution and commitment to secure U.S. borders and push for increases in defense spending. Looking ahead to the weekend festivities, it was the speeches of Cruz and Trump that helped persuade her non-delegate husband to attend with her.
“It’s just more interesting for him,” she said.
Mark Pruner of Clarksburg, another veteran delegate and alternate member of the California Republican Party board, said the party also will benefit from the competitiveness of the presidential race, drawing voters who might not otherwise participate.
The state GOP is undergoing a rebuilding effort led by Chairman Jim Brulte that focuses on raising money, recruiting down-ticket candidates and organizing grass-roots activists.
“At the end of the day, the party goes on and (individuals) don’t, and I think everybody recognizes that,” said Pruner, an attorney.
“It’s more chaotic – and democracy is kind of a messy thing – but it’s a great system ... When everybody is engaged and feels like they have a stake in the outcome, it’s a much healthier society, it’s a much healthier government.”
Despite exhilaration surrounding the weekend convention, the looming primary stands to highlight fissures within the GOP.
According to a Field Poll this month, nearly 40 percent of likely Republican voters in the state will be upset or dissatisfied if Trump becomes the nominee, and 34 percent feel that way about Cruz.
“The voting public, the rank and file voters, are divided, and there’s dissension for each of the candidates no matter whose side you’re on,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. “There are segments of the public that say they’re going to be upset or dissatisfied with the other guy being the nominee … That’s really the difficulty that the Republicans face this year.”
Katherine Daigle, a Republican small-business owner from Irvine, said she believes many of Trump’s supporters have no interest in other candidates.
“I think the people view him as a savior,” said Daigle, who is running for state Assembly and planned to attend the convention to blog about Trump.
“I think people view him as the greatest thing that has ever happened to this country. A lot of people think he is going to make a huge difference.”
Daigle thinks Trump would strengthen the economy, improve infrastructure and halt illegal immigration.
She wants to “stop jihadists from coming into this country,” adding, “I want a wall. It’s ridiculous.”
Greig, former president of the conservative California Republican Assembly, said she met Trump in September in Washington and, based on the reception, knew she would support him for president.
“He is the only one with the guts to stand up to the establishment and to speak up ... about immigration and terrorism,” she said. “I like the fact that he has tremendous experience in creating jobs. He isn’t afraid to speak up. Let’s face it: We have tremendous problems.”
More than 600 people will see Trump and Cruz give their speeches in person, plus the 250 credentialed media signed up to cover the events, said Harmeet Dhillon, vice chair of the California Republican Party.
Dhillon said party activists, rank-and-file delegates and GOP voters want to hear from the candidates about how the party is ultimately going to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton, who is closing in on her party’s nomination.
She dismissed anti-Trump efforts at raising money to form a firewall here as a “fantasy” of political consultants in search of their next gigs.
“Delegates to the California Republican Party are the hard-core committed volunteers who spend their Saturdays, like I do sometimes, doing door-knocking in the rain for a special election,” Dhillon said.
“These people are not armchair conservatives. Most of us really don’t care who the (nominee) is. We just can’t have another term of Obama.”
Not everyone who wants to is going.
In Modoc County in far northeast California, Bob Zane, chair of the central committee, said the expense of the convention – and the distance of the Bay Area from some of California’s more conservative, inland areas – will keep him away. A hotel room, gas and banquet tickets cost hundreds of dollars.
Still, he said Republicans in his rural corner of the state are “pretty motivated” by the election, with the presidential race giving air to conservative issues largely overlooked in a Democratic state.
“How long has it been since California’s mattered, particularly in Republican affairs in the state?” he asked.
California Republican Party convention and surrounding events
Noon: Donald Trump speaks at lunch banquet
2 p.m. John Kasich holds town hall meeting in San Francisco
7:30 p.m.: Kasich speaks at dinner banquet
11 a.m.: Kasich holds town hall meeting in San Jose
Noon: Ted Cruz speaks at lunch banquet
7:30 p.m.: Carly Fiorina speaks at dinner banquet