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The Trump nomination makes things tricky for candidates back home

The Wall Street Journal
July 20, 2016 3:13 p.m. ET

One optic trick Republican party leaders in Cleveland are using to present a unified image for TV audiences is to put California’s 172 delegates front-and-center on the convention floor for the four-day gathering.

California’s delegation is usually banished to the back of the hall at GOP conventions because the state isn’t competitive in presidential elections. But this year the delegates were all selected by the Trump campaign and pledged to vote for him on the first ballot. No threat of anyone making a scene in front of the cameras.

The delegation includes former Rep. Doug Ose, who played a lead role in quashing dissent against Mr. Trump’s nomination on the convention rules committee. Rep. Duncan Hunter, who in February was among the first members of Congress to endorse Mr. Trump, has led the New York businessman’s congressional outreach. While California’s convention delegates may all be loyal to Mr. Trump, many Republicans fear that the nominee could cause collateral damage to the state party and down-ballot candidates—and that the damage could be irreversible.

Since 2012, GOP voter registration in California has dropped to 4.8 million (27% of the electorate) from 5.2 million (30%), while Democratic registration has increased by 600,000 to eight million voters (45%). This partisan shift has been occurring for the past two decades since Pete Wilson championed an initiative barring illegal immigrants from using public services. But the GOP’s decline has accelerated over the past year as many moderate Republicans have defected and more Hispanics and young voters register as Democrats.

Mr. Trump’s candidacy also threatens to depress Republican turnout while driving more Democrats to the polls. Casualties could include three freshmen Republican state Assembly members who won election in 2014 by reaching out to minority groups. A liberal backlash could sweep out these Republicans, giving Democrats a supermajority in the state Assembly.

Assemblywoman Catharine Baker represents a suburban district east of San Francisco Bay, where Democrats enjoy a 10-point voter-registration advantage. Assemblywoman Young Kim’s Orange County district is 40% Hispanic and has a four-point Democratic voter-registration advantage. A south Los Angeles district (Dems +9) currently represented by David Hadley is also nearly half Hispanic and Asian.

There is also a risk that Mr. Trump could increase the California’s GOP attrition in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans hold just 14 of the state’s 53 congressional seats, down from 21 two decades ago. Many of these GOP-held districts have become more Democratic; Steve Knight (Palmdale) and David Valadao (Central Valley) in particular are going to have a fight on their hands in the fall. Republican candidates in California face the challenge of courting party moderates and Hispanics while not alienating Mr. Trump’s ardent supporters. If those candidates had the front-row seats in Cleveland, they might be squirming.