California GOP gears up for June primary
June 5 is still pretty far off, but for local Republicans, interest in California's primary is just starting to simmer.
The likelihood of the party's presidential nominee still being up for grabs in that contest means party faithful in Yuba-Sutter can play a pivotal role in whether it's former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, or someone else.
Clay Maynard, chair for the Republican Party Central Committee in Sutter County, said while it's hard for most people to avoid political chatter already, he expects interest is still going to rise.
"We've only seen the tip of the iceberg," he said. "I'm expecting to see a lot of changes coming down the pike."
For party insiders like Maynard, recent activity has centered more on contests closer to home. GOP members in both Yuba and Sutter counties held joint meetings recently to vet candidates for state Assembly and the House of Representatives.
Buck Weckman, a spokesman for the Yuba County GOP, said the benefit of a hot presidential race is in drumming up interest in those down-ballot races.
"Absolutely, presidential, national races stimulate interest at the local level," he said, adding his party's local Obama Must Go campaign is drawing in some volunteers. "The more it becomes a viable race, the more it helps us here."
But despite California's status as the big prize for party delegates, with its 172 more than 15 percent of the total needed, the prospects of Romney or Santorum dropping by the region might be slim.
Even as a solidly Republican area, Yuba-Sutter doesn't have the mass of population to pull in a presidential candidate looking for big voter chunks, said Diana Dwyre, a political science professor at California State University, Chico.
"The kind of attention we get might be mailers and a lot of TV, because it's not an expensive media market," she said.
And if a candidate wanted to boost a local race for Congress, for example, he might appear with a local candidate.
Then again, there is precedent: GOP candidate Bob Dole stopped in Chico in 1996. And last fall, Santorum spoke at an event in Yuba City, in conjunction with the abortion alternatives group A Woman's Friend.
While she hasn't heard any talk of it, group executive director Carol Dodds said she'd welcome it if Santorum made a return trip this spring.
"He was very profound," she recalled of his October speech. "Personally, I think he could connect with just about anyone, because he's a humble man, and humility is rare in politics."
Because the race is still in flux, Dwyre said, predicting who has an advantage is tricky. She added even though the nomination race has been fiercely contested in some states, many of them had a relatively low turnout.
But Weckman and Maynard didn't think interest would ultimately be a problem.
"There are people not so happy with $4, $5 gas prices, jobs leaving California, high unemployment," he said. "That can push people from one party to another."
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