California Republican delegates at the party convention in San Diego

The two leading Republican candidates for governor took the stage at the state party convention in San Diego this afternoon, touting their conservative credentials and seeking the party’s endorsement.

John Cox, a businessman from Chicago, and Travis Allen, an assemblyman from Huntington Beach, were given 12 minutes each to make a case to the packed crowd of party delegates—and to dish out the red meat.

Repealing California’s “sanctuary state” laws, slashing the recently increased gas tax and beating up on California’s governor were common threads for both candidates—and reliable applause lines.

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“Raise your hand if you’re a California citizen!” Allen said as he hopped to the podium. “Raise your hand if it’s about time our government puts citizens first!”

Hands shot up. Cheers sounded across the tent pavilion.

Allen has made opposition to California’s sanctuary policy a hallmark of his campaign. He went on to call for lower taxes, looser gun regulations and more support for charter schools and home-schooling.

California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte threatened to cut short—with the blast of an airhorn—any candidate who used the speech to criticize a fellow Republican. Allen found a way to abide by the letter of that rule, if not its spirit.

“If you voted for Donald Trump, stand up!” he exhorted the audience. “While you’re standing think about this: there is only one candidate in the entire race who voted for, supported, even wrote op-eds in favor of…Donald Trump.”

Left unspoken (barely): Cox voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson.

Cox, for his part, trained most of his fire at the front-runner in the gubernatorial race, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other California Democrats, who he said were driving the state off a “liberal cliff,” à la Thelma and Louise. “They’ve gone way over to the left, they’ve opened up the middle for us.”

Recent polls have put the businessman in second place, increasing the odds that he will make it past California’s top-two primary and onto the November general-election ballot, where he would have to compete for a broader electorate.

But in calling attention to his conservative credentials, Cox, who first ran for Congress in 2000 and has since made unsuccessful runs for Senate and president, offered a subtle dig at the younger Allen (he’s 44).

“We need a candidate with the experience and the maturity to tackle this important job,” said Cox, who is 62. “We need to make sure that we have a candidate at the top of the ticket who has a chance of winning.”

Under the party’s new process, candidates seeking the endorsement for a statewide office had to first round up the support of 200 delegates and five party board members. To secure the party’s imprimatur, a candidate needs to win at least 60 percent of the delegate vote tomorrow morning.

Along with Cox and Allen, four other Republicans spoke to delegates this afternoon. They include two candidates for attorney general, Steven Bailey and Eric Early, along with Cole Harris and Mark Meuser, the only Republican candidates who qualified for a possible endorsement in the race for lieutenant governor and secretary of state, respectively.

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Ben Christopher

Ben covers California politics and elections. Prior to that, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and budget. Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, he has written...