Political Notebook

Convention marks epic battle for California’s Republican delegates

It is now all but certain that California’s June 7 primary will be Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s coronation – or the day it becomes clear that the GOP will head to its national convention in Cleveland this summer without a clear nominee.

The campaign for that election starts in earnest this weekend in Burlingame, where the Republican rank-and-file will gather for the state party’s annual spring convention. It is expected to be an intense and high-energy gathering because it’s been a long time since California has played a pivotal role in selecting a presidential nominee, and also because there will be plenty of political star power.

“This weekend’s state GOP convention will be the best-attended and most-watched since Reagan ran for president – if that,” said Republican political strategist Jon Fleischman, publisher of the FlashReport, a widely read conservative blog.

RELATED: Trump hits immigration hard in Southern California speech

RELATED: Violence follows Trump speech in SoCal; 20 arrested

All three Republican presidential hopefuls will attend. Trump is scheduled to speak at the Friday luncheon. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the Friday dinner speaker, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the speaker at lunch on Saturday. Carly Fiorina, Cruz’s newly minted running mate, will speak Saturday night.

Burlingame is in the spotlight because of what’s at stake June 7: Will delegate-rich California push Trump past the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the GOP’s presidential nomination? Or will Cruz and Kasich be able to stop him?

RELATED: California Democrats are using "Trump Republicans" to insult opponents

Their audience will be the party faithful, the on-the-ground worker bees who are expected to do the heavy lifting of getting Republican voters to the polls.

“This is a high-value audience of people who are involved in the party and could help at the grass-roots level in the coming campaign,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a national look at federal races published by University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “Trump appears ready to rhetorically turn the page on the primary, while Cruz and Kasich clearly are not.”

The rank-and-file matter because California awards 159 of its delegates by congressional district, winner-take-all. That means the candidate with the most votes in each of the state’s 53 congressional districts will win three delegates in each district.

It will make California feel like 53 small election battles, and will require campaign organization and coordination. And whether the district is Tulare Republican Devin Nunes’ heavily GOP 22nd District here in the central San Joaquin Valley, or Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s heavily Democratic Bay Area district, the same three delegates go to the Republican with the most votes. Only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary.

An additional 10 delegates and the votes of the three California Republican National Committee members go to the winner statewide.

Der Manouel’s campaign advice for Trump

Fresno businessman Michael Der Manouel Jr., who is supporting Trump, said the New York businessman’s goal for the weekend should be clear – act like the GOP’s presumptive nominee. The reason, Der Manouel said, is that many of the rank-and-file party soldiers who will be in attendance this weekend are Cruz supporters.

“His goal should be to focus on Hillary Clinton,” said Der Manouel, who is a Trump delegate in the 22nd Congressional District. That means if Trump wins the 22nd District vote, Der Manouel will go to the national convention this summer to cast his nomination ballot for Trump.

Der Manouel also said he would advise Trump against attacking Kasich or, especially, Cruz, because he risks getting booed at a Republican convention. Then again, Der Manouel said, that might be Trump’s strategy.

“The guy plays a game of chess like nobody,” he said of Trump. “Maybe he wants to get booed by the establishment.”

Tim Clark, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s campaign consultant and the person directing Trump’s California campaign, said as soon as Trump finishes his Friday speech, the campaign will kick into high gear. He said it would be “like skiing a black-diamond run – fast and furious. And everybody’s going to be hanging on.”

Cruz supporters say he’s already there, having set up a California campaign organization months ago.

The FlashReport’s Fleischman, who is supporting Cruz, said California “will ultimately be a Trump-Cruz contest.” Kasich will still be running, but will be irrelevant.

“When the polls close on June 7, only then will we know whether Sen. Ted Cruz will have stopped Trump – and set the stage for a convention showdown,” Fleischman wrote in a column for the Breitbart News Network.

Democrats look to capitalize

Democrats, in the meantime, are wasting no time trying to capitalize on Trump’s convention appearance – and once again tie him to his past controversial comments about Latinos.

On Thursday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee organized a conference call with House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra and three candidates in races that political pundits consider to be competitive. Emilio Huerta, one of two Democrats running in the 21st Congressional District, a heavily Latino district currently represented by Hanford Republican David Valadao, was on the call.

It is unacceptable that David Valadao has pledged to support Donald Trump if Donald Trump is the nominee,” Huerta said. He was referring to a local television interview when Valadao, then supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (who later dropped out of the race), said he would ultimately support whomever was the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.

Trump polls poorly with Latinos, which means this will become a key talking point if he wins the GOP nomination.

Huerta must first get past the June primary, where fellow Democrat Daniel Parra of Fowler is also running, and only the top two finishers, regardless of political party, advance to the November general election.

The 21st District is considered competitive because Democrats hold a more than 15 percentage point voter registration advantage. Valadao, however, easily dispatched Democratic challengers in 2012 and 2014.

Valadao’s campaign spokesman Cole Rojewski dismissed Huerta’s comments.

“While our opponent continues to strategize with Bay Area liberals like Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Valadao will continue to work on creating jobs, fighting for water, and advocating for comprehensive immigration reform not only in English, but in Portuguese and Spanish as well,” he said.

Related stories from Fresno Bee