New Way of Choosing GOP Delegates in CA

Rudy Giuliani has a two-to-one lead over the rest of the Republican Presidential field in California. That's according to the latest Field Poll. Conventional thinking would be that Giuliani has California sewn up. But that's not as big a deal as it once was. The California Republican Party has changed the way it delegates its delegates. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde continues our coverage of the California primary.

Kitty Felde: There's a bit of political theater that happens every four years at national political conventions. On the night the nominee for president is finally and officially selected, there's the delegate roll call, in all its bombastic splendor:

Kentucky Delegate (at convention): The Commonwealth of Kentucky, home of the famous Louisville Slugger, unanimously casts our 46 votes for America's all-star cleanup hitter, George W. Bush!

[Sound of cheers]

Felde: California has 173 Republican delegates, and they've always been awarded to the GOP candidate who gets the most votes in the state primary. But next year, California Republicans will divvy up their delegates by congressional district. Win the most votes in one of the state's 53 congressional districts, and you win that district's delegates.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior scholar in the School of Policy, Planning and Development at USC, says the Democrats in California threw out their "winner-take-all" rule more than 30 years ago.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe: In 1972, George McGovern won the California primary. He defeated Hubert Humphrey by some 1% of the vote. But, because at that point in time California was still a "winner-take-all" primary in the Democratic Party, McGovern took all, I believe it was 271, delegates.

Felde: Despite a challenge at the Democratic Convention a few weeks later, McGovern kept all his California delegates, and won the nomination. But the state Democratic Party dumped "winner-take-all" and switched to a proportional system. Now the Republicans are doing pretty much the same thing. Rudolph Giuliani, who leads in state polls, will still likely get the lion's share of California's GOP delegates. And the other candidates?

Bebitch Jeffe: It means that they have a chance.

Felde: USC's Sherry Bebitch Jeffe says the second-tier candidates can save money and win votes by targeting specific neighborhoods with mailers, rather than trying to reach the entire state.

Bebitch Jeffe: It also means you could cherry pick within Democratic districts if you are a Republican. Because even in the district that includes Compton, which is heavily black, heavily Latino, heavily Democratic, there are Republican voters who will vote in the primary, and you can get three delegates out of that.

Felde: And Cal State Fullerton political scientist Raphe Sonenshein says the candidates now have to make friends with the 19 House Republicans from California. It's all in the interest of adding to that delegate count.

Raphe Sonenshein: By allocating it on a basis of these districts – the Congressional districts – what they've mainly done is found a way to get the candidates to pay attention to those members of Congress.

Felde: Like House freshman Kevin McCarthy. He's from Bakersfield, where he won almost 80% of the vote when he ran for Congress in 2006. McCarthy hasn't endorsed anyone for president yet, and that makes him a popular guy right now with all the candidates.

Congressman Kevin McCarthy: I've met with Thompson. Romney called me one time when I was gettin' my hair cut. Giuliani has called me. All three of them are impressive men. I haven't found one though, yet, that I've decided this is where I'm going to go.
Felde: Do you know when you're going to have to make up your mind?
McCarthy: Um, yeah. February. When I get into the voting booth.

Felde: Most of the California Republicans in Congress have already endorsed a candidate. Mary Bono of Palm Springs was an early supporter of Rudy Giuliani. Buck McKeon of Santa Clarita spent the weekend campaigning for Mitt Romney in Iowa. Gary Miller of Diamond Bar is backing fellow California Congressman Duncan Hunter.

Hunter, of course, is backing himself. In his San Diego district, he typically wins about 65% of the vote. If that popularity continues in the presidential primary in February, Duncan Hunter – under the state's GOP new proportional rules – would win three delegates. Three down... and only 1188 to go for the nomination.

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