Conservative voters in New York and California are finally going to have their say.
Republicans in the two liberal strongholds have long been marginalized in national politics, with their primaries coming late in the process and their general election votes canceled out by Democrats.
But this year is different.
The two states collectively represent about 30 percent of the outstanding delegates in the Republican race, which means the results of their primaries will go a long way toward deciding whether Donald Trump will win the GOP nomination outright or be forced into a contested convention in July.
Both states are holding closed primaries that only allow Republicans to vote, a policy that in other states has helped Ted Cruz?
But Trump has a huge lead in both states, polls indicate, raising the possibility of decisive wins.
“It’s a great opportunity [for Republicans] who often feel neglected, to really have an important say in the process,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a nonpartisan political analyst with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “That’s true every election cycle in some degree, but particularly this time on the Republican side.”
New York’s primary is just a few weeks away, so the candidates are beginning to hunker down for a tough fight for their share of the state’s 95 delegates. Trump has an overwhelming lead in most recent polls, and boasts 54 percent of the vote in RealClearPolitics’ average, compared to about 17 percent for John Kasich and 16 percent for Cruz.
The overall winner will receive 14 delegates, while the remaining 81 delegates will be split up by congressional district. But running up the score in a district past 50 percent will allow a candidate to take all three of a district’s delegates, so candidates have an extra incentive to win decisively.
“I think it behooves the candidates to really come and campaign here because of how competitive the process is,” said Jessica Proud, a spokeswoman for the New York Republican Party.
If no candidate reaches 50 percent in a district, then the leader wins two delegates and the second-place candidate wins one. That could allow Kasich and Cruz to chip away at Trump’s overall haul and prevent him from clinching the nomination.
The candidates haven’t yet started to campaign heavily in New York. Both Kasich and Cruz dropped in for events but are still focused on states like Wisconsin, which holds its primary on Tuesday.
But one New York Republican strategist told The Hill that the state is “fertile ground” for all of the candidates, and particularly for Trump if he decides to play hard.
Cruz’s recent condemnation of “New York values” won’t necessarily be a big obstacle, the Republican said. Anecdotally, the strategist said, many people were offended by it, but others weren’t. “We’ve been living with [New York City Mayor] Bill de Blasio and Democratic governors, [so] a lot of people said they knew exactly what he meant.”
But one issue that could bring down Cruz in the state is his vote against Hurricane Sandy relief, which he justified by arguing that the bill was loaded with pork instead of aid.
“If Trump, or someone else, decided to put up an ad on the Sandy bill in Long Island, that would probably do a lot of damage to Cruz,” the strategist said.
“That was an issue that was so devastating to Long Island and the area.”
California, which does not hold its primary until June, is the largest prize in the Republican race with 172 delegates. Thirteen of those delegates will be awarded to the statewide winner, with the rest split up among the congressional district, winner-take all.
“California is going to be nuts to watch on June 7,” Skelley said.
“It’s going to be 53 individual elections that everyone has to keep an eye on.”
Delegate math experts this week told The Hill that California will likely decide whether Trump secures the nomination or falls short of the 1,237 delegates he needs.
With such a decentralized race across most of the West Coast, California-based GOP strategist Reed Galen told The Hill that organization, not typically a Trump strong suit, could prove crucial.
“If he’s banking on California to put him over the top, he has to have an organization in place to win all those districts that he has to date not shown he has either the desire to build or the capability to build,” he said.
But while Trump’s hard-line approach to immigration may not help him in more moderate areas up state, it could play well in Southern California, where illegal immigration is a top issue.
Both New York and California are expensive media markets. If Trump wants to win big in either state, he might have to open up his wallet.
While the businessman has been reluctant to go on spending binges, his wealth could be a difference-maker in the states, as he has more resources at his disposal than both Cruz and Kasich.
“If [Trump] doesn’t win Wisconsin … and if there are questions about delegates and whether he’ll actually have Trump supporters past the first ballot, you wonder if at that point he would start to throw more of his money around,” Skelley said.
“It would make perfect sense for him to do that, but Trump has rarely done what we expect of him.”