By Joe Garofoli
Published: May 2, 2018
Updated:   May 2, 2018 – 5:51pm

The California Republican Party convention begins Friday in San Diego, and the expectations for the weekend are — if we’re being polite — modest. If we’re being real, they’re lower than dirt.

The party faces an existential moment. With only 25 percent of California voters registered as Republicans, it’s Battle of the Alamo time.

“They need to energize their base enough to hold onto the last remaining bits of red territory in California,” said Thad Kousser, a professor of political science at UC San Diego.

Everything the GOP does this weekend must be aimed at ensuring it doesn’t get swept into the Pacific Ocean should a blue wave crash on California in the November midterm elections. Democrats are hoping to flip as many as half the 14 districts that Republicans now hold in California in their quest to win the House.

Defending the Alamo won’t be easy. There probably won’t be a Republican on the November general election ballot for U.S. Senate, and the GOP candidates who have a shot at making the runoff for governor share the same nickname with most voters: “Who?”

There aren’t reinforcements on the way. When the state’s new voter registration figures are announced May 16, there’s a very good chance more people will be labeled nonpartisan than Republican. That would put the GOP in virtually third-party status in the country’s largest state.

The best-known Republican on the June ballot isn’t even an Republican anymore. Former state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is running for his old job again, but has shed his GOP affiliation and is listed as a nonpartisan candidate. Polls give him a good chance of winning.

So at this critical moment, here is the California GOP’s must-do checklist for its weekend gathering of 1,400 delegates:

•Pick a candidate for governor. If there is no GOP name at the top of the ticket in November, not only will it be hard to excite Republican voters, it will hurt every candidate the party fields further down the ballot.

One of the two major Republican candidates, San Diego County businessman John Cox, has crept into a virtual tie with Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa for second place behind Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in the latest Public Policy Institute of California survey. The other, Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen, is mired in the middle of the pack.

“Voters are starved for cues” about whom to vote for, said John Thomas, a consultant representing GOP congressional and local candidates in California. “When the party weighs in, it gives voters another cue.”

But the bar is high to get the party’s blessing. The winner must be supported by 60 percent of delegates. (Democrats have the same threshold, and none of the candidates for Senate or governor was able to get there at the party’s convention in February.)

Cox’s campaign has been working delegates for months and organizing furiously, but the Illinois native is a newcomer to state party politics. Allen’s strongest attribute is that, unlike Cox, he voted for President Trump in 2016, so that makes him the MAGA forces’ kind of guy.

Allen “needs the endorsement more,” Thomas said, given that he’s far behind Cox in fundraising and “Republicans are starting to coalesce around Cox. If Cox scores the endorsement, it’s over for Allen at this point.”

•Whip up the base. A lot of party insiders thought repealing the state’s gas-tax increase would be a unifying issue for Republicans, and conservative activists just submitted what look like enough signatures to qualify it for the November ballot.

But GOP consultant Thomas said his polling shows that cutting the tax doesn’t compare to the visceral appeal Republicans feel toward opposing California’s sanctuary state laws. A growing number of communities — mostly in Southern California and the Central Valley — have either passed resolutions against the laws or joined a lawsuit opposing them.

“That’s the stuff that fires up the Republican primary electorate,” Thomas said.

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