Now that Sen. Ted Cruz has thumped Donald Trump in the Wisconsin primary, the campaigns of Cruz, Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will turn their attention to the April 19 primary in New York.
And while California's primary day is still two months away, voting by mail begins May 9. And a powerful array of consultants, donors and activists is already working to make sure the Golden State is Trump's Alamo.
"California will be the backstop, if it's needed, to keep Trump from getting to 1,237 majority of delegates (the number needed to win on the first ballot) and send the Republicans to an open convention in Cleveland with an opportunity to hit a reset button," Rob Stutzman said.
He and two other veteran GOP consultants are organizing the "Stop Trump" effort here. The goal: "Nominate someone who can beat Hillary Clinton, and there's growing obvious consensus that it's not Donald Trump."
But it's a tricky and complicated strategy. The GOP allocates three delegates in each of California's 53 congressional districts to whichever candidate wins a majority there. If Cruz and Kasich split the votes in any congressional district, it makes it easier for Trump to get the most votes and win those three delegates.
Stutzman's group is analyzing polling data in each congressional district to see whether Cruz or Kasich have a better chance of coming in first. Then comes the hard part -- convincing Cruz supporters to vote for Kasich where the Ohio governor runs strongest (like the San Francisco Bay Area) and educating Kasich supporters to vote for Cruz in the most conservative parts of California, where the Texas senator is strongest.
Success, Stutzman says, requires a sophisticated ground game and education campaign in every single congressional district. "The Republicans in Marin County and East L.A. are just as critical as the ones in Orange County and in Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s district in Bakersfield," Stuztman said. Noting that conservatives in places like Marin aren't used to hearing from their party, Stutzman joked, "Some Republican in West Hollywood is about to become very popular."
At the moment, Kasich shows no signs of dropping out. If he does at some point before the June 7 primary here, Stutzman says, the effort would simply become a pro-Cruz campaign to stop Trump.
"An open convention is within sight," Stutzman says, adding that people are beginning to understand "the damage a nominee like Trump would do to the Republican Party."
The unexpected relevance of California's primary has county chairs hopping. "There's a lot of excitement," says Scott Mann, GOP chairman for Riverside County. "It's created a lot of buzz and free media."
Mann says many Republicans who left the party for one reason or another are re-registering so they can vote in the closed GOP primary. "They're coming home to vote for Trump, Cruz or Kasich -- it's all over the place," Mann says. "We're even getting some Democrats converting so they can vote for John Kasich. It's pretty amazing what's happening right now."
Mann says he's heard from all three campaigns, which are focusing on volunteer lists, identifying local chairs and delegate selection. So which campaigns are most together and best organized?
"I'd say Cruz, Kasich and Trump in that order," Mann says, echoing a common sentiment that Trump is living on free media.
Mann wouldn't say on the record which candidate he's supporting, but he has been selected to be a delegate for one of them.
Looking ahead to the state Republican Party convention in Burlingame April 29-May 1, it's sure to be a real doozy.
So far, Kasich and Cruz are confirmed speakers. "We invited all three at the same time," says GOP Vice Chair Harmeet Dhillon. "Trump was invited but hasn't yet confirmed."
Not to worry. "I think the candidates will essentially camp out here for the month of May," says Stutzman. "There's a big fight for the soul of the party going on."