By David Montero, LA Daily News
Jeffrey Moffatt, an Antelope Valley Republican, decided he was going to challenge incumbent congressman Steve Knight in California’s June 7 primary and he’s pretty sure having Donald Trump as the GOP nominee will help him in that quest.
Moffatt’s running anti-establishment, just like Trump. He says he’s a fighter, just like Trump. What impressed him the most though, he said, was when a man jumped onstage at a Trump rally in Ohio a few days ago and the billionaire businessman didn’t back down.
“Rather than running or turning tail, he was going to defend himself and take on the attacker,” Moffatt said. “That’s what I would do.”
Moffatt is one of a slate of candidates who filed papers with the California secretary of state prior to the March 11 deadline to compete in local, state and federal races and is willing to align with— if not officially endorse — Trump.
With Trump winning primaries in Florida, North Carolina and Illinois on Tuesday and extending his delegate lead over Ted Cruz, according to the website Real Clear Politics, the question is not only whether California will have a say in determining the Republican presidential nominee but how that top-of-the-ticket race will affect others down the ballot.
There also is a secondary question. As Trump has faced more scrutiny, with violence at his rallies, and as the anti-Trump, GOP establishment continues to try to stop Trump, where do the candidates line up?
Few running in Southern California have endorsed Trump so far.
U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-San Diego, endorsed Trump in late February. Tim Donnelly, who announced Friday that he was running against U.S. Rep. Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, hasn’t taken a stance on either Cruz or Trump but said he liked things about the front-runner.
“Whoever becomes the nominee, I will support and work for and I will bring them to my district,” Donnelly said. “I’m OK if it’s either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.”
Los Angeles County Republican Chairman Mark Vafiades said it is recommended that candidates down the ticket refrain from endorsing presidential candidates in a primary.
“Many times it’s contentious at the top, and there are people voting for either candidate and, if you endorse one, you’ve upset 50 percent of your possible vote total and they may not vote for you,” Vafiades said. “It is too risky.”
Vafiades said he is unaware of any candidates for state or local races that have endorsed or launched bids for office because of Trump or Cruz.
Mark MacCarley, a retired Army general running for a state Assembly seat in Glendale, said he isn’t endorsing anyone.
“The only guy I liked bailed out a while ago and that was Lindsey Graham,” MacCarley said. “But yes, the top of the ticket with Trump, (John) Kasich and Cruz will have an effect.”
CALIFORNIA MAY COUNT
The GOP primary season rarely reaches California with any drama and, by the time the state votes in June, nominees usually have things locked up.
When George W. Bush ran in 2000 and 2004 and Sen. John McCain in 2008, California wasn’t a factor. In 2012, despite a high number of candidates early in the race, Mitt Romney was safely on his way to the nomination when California Republicans voted.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has about a 300-delegate lead over Bernie Sanders and, if non-binding superdelegates are added to the total, the former secretary of state has a commanding lead on her way to the nomination.
Primaries that appear to be foregone conclusions can often lead to low turnout. Four years ago, it was extraordinarily low.
Los Angeles County only drew 16.3 percent of eligible voters when Romney and President Barack Obama were the party nominees. San Bernardino County didn’t fare much better, bringing in just 15.4 percent of eligible voters.
But the Trump phenomenon has seen a surge in voting on the Republican side.
The Pew Research Center showed that in the first 12 primaries and caucuses, turnout is at its highest levels since 1980 — with 17.3 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. Democrats are almost double 2012 in turnout, but well off the 2008 pace where 19.5 percent of eligible voters participated. In that race, it was heavily contested between Obama, Clinton and John Edwards. Clinton endorsed Obama that June after he reached the delegate total needed.
Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said if Trump is close to getting the 1,277 delegates needed or appears to be the presumptive nominee, turnout here in California might not be as great.
If the contest remains unsettled, however, and California has a say in the final outcome, he expects turnout will be much higher than in previous primary cycles.
That high turnout — if it’s Republicans with tea party or Trump leanings — will benefit candidates that paint themselves as anti-establishment.
But Pitney said there is a risk to aligning too closely with Trump this soon.
“Even though he has gone from strong to stronger, there is always the chance that things could go very wrong very fast,” Pitney said. “If there is bloodshed at a Trump event — you just don’t know. He’s a loose cannon and you don’t want be around when it goes boom.”