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Typically-blue California could play a big role in GOP presidential nomination

Posted at 9:09 AM, Jun 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-03 19:35:52-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- In just over seven months, California voters will begin to receive their mail-in ballots for the 2024 Presidential Primary election.

Politically speaking, that's right around the corner.

And in 2024, for the first time in decades, election experts believe California -- a deep Blue state -- could play a huge role in deciding the Republican presidential nominee.

"California is what I call the big enchilada," says ABC 10News political analyst John Dadian.

"The California GOP Primary in 2024 is going to be a critical point," adds Joe St. George, the Deputy Political Director for Scripps News.

"All bets are off in this situation," says San Diego-based political research analyst John Nienstedt, who runs Competitive Edge Research and Communication.

In conversations will all three, a common theme developed -- Californians can expect to get a lot of attention from the ever-growing field of Republican presidential hopefuls.

The calendar plays a big part of this. In 2020, California moved its presidential primary from June to March. At the time, it was to give the state more influence over picking nominees.

But in 2020, both Donald Trump and Joe Biden had already become clear frontrunners for their party's respective nominations.

In 2024, California's primary is March 5; that puts it on the first "Super Tuesday" of the election cycle. Only Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have their primaries before then. And 12 other states will share a primary day with the Golden State.

Those states include traditionally red-leaning locations like Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Utah, Tennessee, and Alabama.

But the analysts that spoke with ABC 10News say it would be a strategic mistake for the GOP candidates to focus on just the traditional strongholds, while ignoring California.

"A win here, even a good showing here, continues momentum in a delegate rich sense," says Nienstedt. "So, it gives more solidity to a campaign that does well here."

In addition to momentum from a good day in California, a candidate can also pick up a significant number of delegates for the Republican National Convention.

California will send 169 delegates, the most of any state. A candidate only needs to get 1,230 to win the nomination.

By comparison, Iowa will only send 40 and New Hampshire will only send 22.

And the way California divvies up delegates will play a big role. Instead of splitting them based on the statewide vote, the winner of each congressional district in the state gets three delegates.

That means picking up just a handful of districts would give a candidate more than they could get from all both of those states combined.

"It's going to matter who finishes in 2nd place or 3rd place," says St. George. "It could be a moment where you have someone who maybe didn't perform well in Iowa or maybe they didn't perform well in New Hampshire have a bit of a comeback. It could be the moment that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis overtakes former President Donald Trump."

But it could also be the day that Trump solidifies his nomination, with California's help.

After all, more than six million people in California voted for Trump in the 2020 general election. That's more than Texas (5.9 million), Florida (5.7 million) or any other state in the U.S.

Numbers like that show a candidate needs to win in California to win the GOP.

"People forget how big a state California really is," says Dadian "Parts of Bakersfield, up in Central California, you would think you're in the south."

"Issues like the 2nd Amendment matter more in rural parts of California," adds St. George. "(Candidates will) be talking about inflation and gas prices. They'll be talking about wokeness as well."

And they'll be talking about money.

"Republican presidential candidates will treat it as they've always treated California, as an ATM," says Nienstedt.

That's already playing out. Since the start of June, Republican candidates Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Ron DeSantis have all held fundraisers in California. More will come to get critical cash for their campaign coffers.

And while they're here, they'll try to pick up as many votes as possible.

"Of course, Republican candidates are going to be coming to California. Of course, Republican candidates are going to be campaigning in San Diego County, simply because they need the Benjamins in order to keep their campaign going," says St. George.

All that means California, where a Republican hasn't won a statewide election since Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, will feel the red heat in 2024.