The California Republican Party changed its rules this year in an attempt to consolidate GOP support behind one candidate ahead of the June primary.
But on Sunday, party delegates meeting in San Diego a month ahead of the primary didn't give either San Diego businessman John Cox or Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen the votes to win the party nod.
It was a disappointment for party leaders, who'd hoped that an endorsement would ensure a Republican a spot in a top-of-the-ticket race this November, potentially driving conservative turnout and helping down-ticket races. But neither Allen nor Cox could get to the 60 percent needed.
After the first vote, some delegates asked the party to reconsider -- including San Diego delegate Greg Lansing.
"We are at a critical point here... we have to send a clear message and unify behind one," Lansing said. "If we don't, it's just going to dilute our party, it's going to dilute our spending, it's going to dilute the vote. We need to unify and show that we can be unified and go up against the Democrats. That’s our enemy. It’s not these guys, alright?"
But Jennifer Beal, Orange County delegate, said there shouldn't be a second vote noting that neither man was close to 60 percent. Cox was at 55 percent and Allen at 40 with the remainder choosing "no endorsement."
"This is a clear clear situation where our party is divided," Beal said. "We have two candidates, and it isn't the time for us to get in arguments. Let's all go our ways and get into the streets and fight for the candidate that we believe in. And that candidate will prevail on June 5."
Ultimately, delegates voted against reconsidering.
The entire endorsement question was a new one for GOP delegates. But with only about one-quarter of voters in California registered Republican and a top-two primary system that allows the two leaders in the June primary to advance to the November runoff -- regardless of party affiliation -- Republicans could get locked out of the governor's race entirely.
On Saturday, the statewide candidates who met the requirements set out by the GOP to vie for an endorsement were allowed 12 minutes to make their pitch to delegates. Party Chair Jim Brulte barred the candidates from attacking each other in the speeches and had an airhorn at the ready if they didn't comply.
Both Allen and Cox mostly played along, taking a few opaque swipes at their opponent (Allen noted that he was the only gubernatorial candidate who voted for President Trump; Cox argued that the party needs someone with "maturity," an apparent reference to their nearly two decade age difference).
But all weekend, the differences between the men seemed more about style that substance. They focused their messages on Republican red meat issues: Attacking California Democrats, bemoaning the state's business climate, attacking the sanctuary state law and vowing to repeal the gas tax increase.
"Our state’s been mismanaged and not only has it been mismanaged, it has been run into the ground," Allen told delegates Saturday. "Jerry Brown and the California Democrats have taken the state that once had the best roads, the best schools, the best water system, and now we lead the nation in poverty ... I will tell you, ladies and gentleman, this is our state, it's about time that we take it back. Are you with me?"
Cox, who acknowledged that he's still being introduced to many voters, hammered the same theme in his speech a few minutes later.
"Why am I a conservative?" he asked. "Because like you, I believe in people, not government. I believe that conservative solutions solve problems, not big government. Big government is not the solution to our problem, big government is the problem."
The party did throw its support Sunday behind a lawsuit by President Trump's administration, challenging the state's so-called sanctuary law.
The sanctuary policy, passed last year by Democrats and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is one of the most high profile flashpoints in the ongoing clash between California Democrats and the president. It limits local police and sheriff's ability to cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, instructing local law enforcement to only hand over people in their custody to ICE if the suspected undocumented immigrant has a history of violent crime.
Attacking the sanctuary law was among the most popular refrains at this weekend's GOP convention.
Also Sunday, the party voted to endorse Steven Bailey for attorney general, Cole Harris for lieutenant governor and Mark Meuser for secretary of state.