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The Riggs Report: California’s return to irrelevance

High hopes for a pivotal GOP vote up in smoke

It was too much to hope for, really: the idea that California’s primary election would be the hinge upon which the Republican presidential nomination would turn.

As of last week, there was tremendous excitement at the prospect that the state’s June 7 vote would determine whether Donald Trump could claim his party’s nomination or would head into a bloody free-for-all and floor fight at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer.

There was every reason to believe that Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich would campaign furiously here and spend wads of campaign cash, filling the airwaves with TV and radio commercials. A hyper-charged competitive atmosphere would mean robust engagement and heavy voter turnout, so the thinking went.

Then came Tuesday night.

As Ted Cruz announced he was suspending his campaign after being walloped in the Indiana primary, you could just imagine the loud sound of air escaping from the California balloon. Suddenly and unceremoniously, the state’s vote returned to irrelevance and a mere afterthought for the campaign operations.

Back in February, I wrote about this, noting that California should be used to this situation by now. The last Republican primary that mattered here was in 1976, when former Gov. Ronald Reagan beat Gerald Ford, leading to a tumultuous nomination fight in Kansas City.

There have been periodic efforts to jump-start California’s influence. The state’s primary was moved to early March in 2000 and 2004, then to February in 2008. The results were unclear, since other states responded by leapfrogging ahead on the calendar.

Plagued with complaints about the separate costs of an early presidential primary and a June primary for other ballot items, the state’s combined primary was returned to June in 2012.

So what happened in 2016?

Cruz’s suspension of his campaign was a surprise, given that he was expected to stage a showdown with Trump in California. It’s remarkable that Cruz was unable to rally conservative party leaders to save his candidacy, like they would have done with almost any other candidate.

Those same leaders don’t like Trump and question his Republican credentials, but it would seem they disliked Cruz even more.

Cruz’s decision also gives his running mate, Carly Fiorina, an unusual and unwelcome historic distinction. She has now lost not once but twice on the national stage this year.

In February, Fiorina suspended her own presidential campaign. This week, only a week after being named by Cruz as his vice presidential choice, her latest hope for a path to the White House went up in smoke. That has to be a double loss without precedent.

Trump’s path to the nomination is now clear.

What is unclear is how this week’s turn of events will affect voter turnout on June 7.

Will California Republicans opposed to Trump skip voting in large enough numbers to affect down-ticket races?

Low turnout could deprive the Republicans of a shot at the open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer, for example.

For California, the GOP presidential primary drama is over.