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California Republicans sweat Trump effect

SAN FRANCISCO — Republicans running for governor in the Democratic stronghold of California face a myriad of challenges. One of the them is how to handle the issue of Donald Trump.

Travis Allen, an assemblyman who announced his bid this week to succeed Jerry Brown as the state’s next governor, argues that he’s already a standout — of the three leading Republicans in the race, he alone proudly admits voting for the president.

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“There were 4.4 million Republicans in California who voted for Trump, and they are looking for real leadership in California,” Allen told POLITICO this week as he tooled around the state’s highways on a campaign trip.

He says the reluctance of the leading GOP challengers — millionaire businessman John Cox and former Assemblyman David Hadley — to embrace Trump and his positions “may not sit very well with Republicans who are voting come June 2018.”

Yet at the same time, the deep animus toward Trump in California makes embracing him a difficult proposition for any candidate who hopes to win a general election. Together, it’s presenting a thorny situation for GOP candidates as the state’s marquee 2018 race ramps up.

In an overwhelmingly blue state — where Democrats hold a 19-point voter registration edge over Republicans — leading Democratic contenders like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Treasurer John Chiang and former state Superintendent of Schools Delaine Eastin are busy collecting donors’ checks and are widely covered by major media outlets.

By contrast, the GOP candidates in California are relative unknowns who, on top of a party registration gap, face the hurdles of the state’s “top two” primary system — which calls for the top two vote-getters of either party to advance to the general election. In a crowded gubernatorial field, that drastically decreases their chances of making to the general election.

And this year, the Republican candidates have the added “Trump Factor” to contend with.

Thanks to Trump — whose approval rating in California is just 27 percent and who lost the popular vote by 4 million votes here — getting to the governorship is “almost an insurmountable mountain for Republicans to climb,’’ says USC political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.

The delicate formula for victory involves backing Trump enough to please the party’s base — volunteers and donors who are critical to success — while not alienating the independents, 1-in-4 state voters who could make the winning difference in the general election.

Jim V. Lacy, a Trump delegate to the Republican National Convention and author of “Taxifornia: Liberals’ Laboratory to Bankrupt California,” frankly acknowledges that “if a Republican candidate went out and fully embraced Trump, and shouted through the state that they’re Trump’s candidate for governor,” it would almost certainly end their chances to make it to the state’s general election.

But he says there’s a way to thread the needle — though to have any chance of victory, a California Republican must have the backing of the loyal GOP grassroots activities and donors who can make or break a campaign here.

“Even though many of them didn’t like Trump, they voted for him because they are tried-and-true Republicans,’’ he said. Allen alone “can very proudly say he voted for the GOP candidate — and that these other folks who say they are Republican haven’t done so,” he said.

Hadley — a moderate who has in the past won the backing of millionaire donor Charles Munger Jr. — told the Los Angeles Times last week that he didn’t vote for Trump in the 2016 election. The former assemblyman said he hopes to appeal to voters who may be willing to cross party lines, and will soon announce endorsements of more than 20 GOP members of the legislature.

Cox, in a past interview with POLITICO, declined to say where he cast his vote, though he said this week that he is glad Hillary Clinton didn’t win, because she “would have been a disaster.”

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 06: U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson addresses his employees March 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. Secretary Carson addressed HUD employees the first time since he took office. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But Cox, who ran for both U.S. Senate and president in Illinois before he moved to California — and has never been elected to office — has wholly embraced the Trumpian notion that an outsider can offer fresh solutions and break up the stale government insiders’ hold on Sacramento. “I’m a businessman, not a politician,’’ he says, a line that comes directly from Trump’s playbook. “I’m running to clean out the barn.”

Yet he’s also carefully attempted to distance himself from some of the president’s more controversial moves — his tweets, for example. “Take a look at my Twitter feed,’’ he says, when asked about the Trump’s critiques of the media, TV personalities and the intelligence community. “My tweets are positive…that’s the tenor of what you’ll see coming out of me…I’m not going to comment on the president.”

All three of the candidates accuse Democrats — who hold super majorities in both houses of the California legislature — of overreaching, and Brown of failing to keep them in check. Despite the open hostility of many California political leaders to Trump, Allen argues Democrats and independents are not all in lockstep with the “State of Resistance” agenda on issues like sanctuary cities.

“A friendly relationship with the White House could only benefit California’’ in areas like infrastructure, jobs and federal funding, he says.

“It’s up to the government in California to take care of our state first and foremost,’’ he says. “And this is what has been completely lacking with the Democrat leadership in Sacramento — from Jerry Brown to [Senate President] Kevin de Leon to [Attorney General] Xavier Becerra,’’ he says. “They have taken an antagonistic stance, regardless of the detrimental effect to the state and it’s gotta change.”

He cites Brown’s support in the passage of a recent gas tax. which he argues is unpopular and won’t solve the state’s traffic gridlock problems, and sanctuary cities — a concept he argues that polls show are not nearly as popular as Democrats suggest.

“There is a widely held misconception that the Democrats are invincible in California,’’ he says. “But there is a silent super majority that has been marginalized and forgotten by Jerry Brown and the ruling Democrats. These are the people who are screaming at their TVs every night and can’t understand why their politicians aren’t listening to them,’’ he said.

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Allen says he’s already lined up party-slate mailers that will reach 14 million of those voters by the fall — an advantage he argues will give him a major advantage over his fellow Republicans in a state with eight major media markets where TV spots are among the most expensive in the country.

But even that may not be enough. On the fundraising front, Democrats have raised more than $ 20 million to date — and front-runner Newsom alone has banked more than $ 10 million. By contrast, GOP front-runner Cox, who says he’s putting in $ 3 million of his own money in the race, this week announced he has raised $ 202,000 — the most to date in the Republican in the field.

Hoover Institution fellow Bill Whalen, who was an adviser to former GOP Gov. Pete Wilson, says popular San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer dashed the Republican Party’s hopes last week by insisting again that he won’t enter the race, so “there is not an alpha in the field.” As a result, Republican candidates will get even less attention.

Which means “until any of these candidates show serious money or the ability to raise their name recognition, let’s forget about Donald Trump,” Whalen says. “He’s the least of their problems.”

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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