California Republican Party won’t endorse in race for governor

Delegates sit under a tent waiting to vote to endorse a candidate at the California Republican Party state convention in San Diego

Delegates wait to cast endorsement votes at the California Republican Party state convention.

The results are in. Delegates of the California Republican Party have cast their votes to endorse a candidate in the governor’s race. And their choice is…no one.

Businessman John Cox and Assemblyman Travis Allen were both competing for the party’s seal of approval. To get it, either one would have needed the support of more than 60 percent of the delegates at this weekend’s state GOP convention in San Diego.

Neither met the test. Cox won the votes of 55.3 percent of the nearly 1,000 delegates in attendance, while Allen earned 40.5 percent. That gap is mirrored in recent public-opinion surveys, where Cox has come second in the top-two primary race to Democratic front-runner Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, maintaining a modest lead over Allen.

“We were never banking on this endorsement,” said Matt Shupe, communications director for the Cox campaign. “We would have preferred it, but it’s not setting our campaign back a day.”

Cox may not have earned the nod of the party, but last week he locked up the support of much of California’s Republican congressional delegation, including House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, Congressman Devin Nunes, and Congressman Jeff Denham.

The party did endorse Cole Harris for lieutenant governor, Steven Bailey for attorney general and Mark Meuser for secretary of state.

With the primary just a month away, the stakes are high for the California Republican Party. If neither Cox nor Allen secures one of the top two spots needed to make it onto the November general-election ballot, that could depress turnout among Republicans across the state, to the detriment of GOP candidates at every level.

The party seal of approval could have helped GOP voters coalesce around one of the two candidates, boosting the odds of his candidacy surviving past June.

Earlier this weekend, San Diego Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric called the endorsement process “critical” for the California GOP.

“Tons of Republican voters are looking for guidance,” he said. Under California’s top-two primary, parties do not nominate candidates to the general election ballot; instead, only the top two vote-getters face one another in November, regardless of party.

Without a partisan primary, an endorsement is “the next best thing,” Krvaric said.

State Democrats didn’t endorse a candidate in the governor’s race, either. According to one study of the California Democratic Party endorsement process, candidates with that party’s backing performed 6 to 15 percentage points better in a subsequent primary than similarly qualified, but non-endorsed, opponents.

It’s not clear whether the same math holds among Republicans. And we won’t find out this year.

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