California’s June 5 primary, despite being the second-to-last contest, is looking more and more like it may determine whether Mitt Romney can win the Republican nomination or whether the party goes to its August convention without a nominee.
Part of the reason is the state’s sheer size. Because states are given three delegates to the Republican National Convention for every congressional district they have, California has a whopping 172 delegates. That’s more than 15 percent of the delegates needed to win the nomination.
California is technically a winner-take-all state, but because basically all of its delegates are awarded by congressional district, there is the possibility that they get sliced up any number of ways.
That said, Romney is a strong early favorite in the state, leading every poll there this year and by 20 points in the most recent poll. What’s more, the state’s more moderate brand of Republicanism and highly urban population seem to play right into his hands.
The last line is not quite accurate. Though some of California's Republican leaders have been moderate, its GOP primary electorate is conservative. (Despite an open top-two primary for other offices, only registered Republicans may vote in the GOP presidential primary.) A 2011 Field Poll found:
More California Republicans now identify themselves as strongly conservative in politics than did so twenty years ago. About half of all registered Republicans (49%) currently describe themselves
as strongly conservative in politics, up from 34% who said this in 1992. By contrast, the proportion of this state’s Republicans who are middle-of-the-road in politics has declined from 39% to 28% over this period.
In the 2010 Senate primary, for instance, moderate Tom Campbell got only 21.7 percent of the vote despite a long and prominent public record. In the gubernatorial primary, Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman tried to shed their moderate backgrounds and ran as conservatives.