By Cathleen Decker
September 20, 2015

The Republican presidential campaign came to California en masse last week for the debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and when it ended the candidates largely beat it for more productive environs.

Many took off for South Carolina, an early voting state and the site of a conservative confab Friday. Donald Trump headed to New Hampshire, the first primary state, where he drew criticism Thursday for failing to correct a supporter who asserted President Obama is a Muslim.

Among the presidential candidates, only Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, stuck around for this weekend’s state Republican convention in Anaheim. Huckabee has been ranked seventh among the candidates, with an average national poll share of under 6%.

So the fact that only Huckabee bothered to show up at the convention said everything about Republicans’ presidential prospects here. As the old song goes: “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

While that is true at the presidential level, however, the convention opens at a time of bolstered optimism among Republicans for some recent state victories. From the outside some of them may seem small, but they are important.

In hard-fought elections, Republicans have blocked Democrats from holding a supermajority of the Legislature, which would have allowed Democrats to rule at will because the party also controls the governor’s office.

The GOP success mattered when Gov. Jerry Brown recently tried to raise taxes, including some that would have helped finance $3.6 billion in repairs to the state’s roads. The plan was quashed when Republicans announced their opposition and remained united — a result not always accomplished in past years.

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If that signaled why Republicans have worked hard to eke out wins in as many seats as possible, a presentation at the state party convention showed just how tough accomplishing that will be.

The session dissected the unexpected 2014 Assembly victory of Catharine Baker. Consultants key to the victory, including Duane Dichiara from her campaign and James Fisfis from the independent effort that backed her, outlined a road map that, they suggested, might also work for other Republican candidates.

Of great help to her was the state’s relatively new rule that sends the top two finishers, regardless of party, into the general election. In a few districts, like hers, that has altered the electoral strategy in complex ways.

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