Ron DeSantis’ trip to California shows GOP’s kingmaker power in a deep blue state

With speculations over his 2024 political aspirations continuing to mount, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is headed to Orange County. And it shouldn’t come as a major shock.

DeSantis is slated to appear at a reception and dinner hosted by the Republican Party of Orange County on March 5 — on the heels of multiple fundraisers he is headlining for county Republican parties in Texas and after a visit earlier that day to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

DeSantis hasn’t formally announced a 2024 presidential bid, but former President Donald Trump launched his third run for the White House in November. Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor, is expected to announce her candidacy later this month.

DeSantis’ visit is a reminder of the role Republican voters have in determining a presidential candidate — when they may otherwise feel overlooked in such a blue state.

Start with the cash.

“Orange County is oftentimes considered an ATM machine for national candidates because millions of dollars are raised out of Orange County for national Republican candidates, including Gov. DeSantis,” said Jon Fleischman, the former executive director of the California GOP.

DeSantis, in 2022 amid his gubernatorial reelection battle on the opposite end of the country, raked in more than $6.5 million from California, according to OpenSecrets, a campaign finance tracking source.

Trump, in 2020, raised more than $92.1 million in California. Newport Beach, where he held a fundraising event that October at billionaire Palmer Luckey’s Lido Isle home, was among the top 45 ZIP codes — in the country — where he received the most money, the data shows. Trump also campaigned in Orange County in 2016.

Then there’s the timing of California’s Republican presidential primary.

California will hold its presidential primary on March 5 — considered to be Super Tuesday, the day when many states hold their elections. It’s an opportunity for a Republican candidate to nab an extraordinary amount of delegates for the nominating process.

“Because California is likely both delegate-rich and early on the calendar, it is smart for potential candidates to invest time in our state to make sure they are getting to know our voters and presenting their vision,” said California GOP Chair Jessica Millan Patterson.

In 2020, California had 172 delegates for the Republican primary election, per the rules set by the national party. That included 10 at-large delegates, three from each congressional district (or 159 overall) and three party leaders.

In comparison, Texas had 155, Florida 122 and Arizona 57. A candidate needed at least 1,276 delegates to win the party’s nomination on the first ballot in 2020.

“Republicans that live in very blue districts become very important in those seats in determining the outcome of where the delegates in their seats go,” said Rob Stutzman, a public affairs professional who worked for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“It’s an opportunity for Republican voters who would otherwise be rather voiceless where they live to have an outsized role in the presidential primary,” Stutzman said.

Matt Shupe, a Republican strategist who has worked on multiple statewide campaigns, said all of this may make California “the most important state” in the GOP primaries.

“Those who invest early and largely are going to have a strategic advantage. The people who are coming out here early and getting in front of important people, like the donors in Orange County, will make a difference,” said Shupe, principal of Praetorian Public Relations.

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