ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Curt Pringle, the conservative mayor of Anaheim and onetime speaker of the California Assembly, is a pro-life Republican who endorsed pro-choice Rudy Giuliani for president last March and since then has been actively engaged in his campaign. After conversations with Giuliani, Pringle takes at face value the former New York mayor's pledge to nominate Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. That reassurance on abortion makes it possible for Pringle and many other prominent California Republicans to pursue an ambitious political design.
Pringle and the state's other Giuliani supporters want to bring California back to relevance in selecting the Republican nominee and electing the president. They resent that the nation's most populous state is presumed to follow Iowa's and New Hampshire's lead in picking presidents. They resent California being consigned as a general election backwater, conceded to the Democrats. Giuliani is seen by Pringle resurrecting California as a significant player for both the nomination and election.
What seemed fanciful in March looks more realistic in October. Giuliani has maintained double-digit California leads over other Republicans all year. With the state primary moved up to Feb. 5 and voting beginning a month earlier, its results could negate the outcome in early small state primaries. Giuliani's popularity here with political leaders such as Pringle is based on the belief he is the only Republican who can challenge Hillary Clinton in blue states -- New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as California.
Giuliani at first seemed, as presidential candidates generally do, to regard California simply as a money jackpot. Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, Giuliani's fundraising dynamo, has a home in Del Mar, Calif., and is an active overseer of the Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley. Pickens and other veterans of George W. Bush's fundraising put Giuliani in front of the California GOP money chase.
Beyond money raisers, the campaign has signed up more prominent California Republicans than other presidential candidates -- most recently former Gov. Pete Wilson. Like Giuliani, Wilson is pro-choice. Another Giuliani backer is the liberal multi-millionaire Richard Riordan, who as mayor of Los Angeles called himself a RINO -- Republican in name only. "Rudy Giuliani is too liberal for the solid, right-wing Republicans in California," Riordan said recently.
But Republican politics always has been a mystery to Riordan, and he does not realize Giuliani's acceptance on the California right. In contrast to Wilson's defiant pro-choice advocacy, Giuliani trumpets his personal opposition to abortion. His first important California backer and his state chairman is a conservative: Bill Simon Jr., who trounced Riordan in the 2002 primary for governor.
Simon has helped amass a long roster of conservatives, which includes: Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, former State Sen. Chuck Poochigian, former U.S. Secretary of Energy John Herrington, entrepreneur Bill Mundell (son of Nobel economics laureate Robert Mundell), former State Chairman Frank Visco, and Congressmen David Dreier, Ed Royce, George Radanovich and Devin Nunes.
Behind the names are rank-and-file California Republicans. The Real Clear Politics average of all polls for the month preceding Oct. 14 gives Giuliani a 14-point California lead over Fred Thompson. He is 21 points ahead in the most recent survey by the authoritative Field poll. With Republican delegates winner-take-all in each congressional district, Giuliani today would capture nearly all of the state's 173 delegates.
The conventional wisdom is that California firepower will be to no avail if Mitt Romney romps through Iowa and New Hampshire, as John Kerry did in 2004 to clinch the Democratic nomination. Would California and the other 19 Republican primaries on Feb. 5 then rubberstamp Romney, as later Democratic primaries did Kerry?
Not necessarily, concedes one of Romney's top strategists, who believes two candidates will survive into Feb. 5. The presumption in political circles is that there are contests in so many states that day that no candidate can personally campaign or even run TV ads in California. That is not true of Giuliani. His supporters here have the funds and organization to actively seek those 173 delegates, setting the stage for what they hope is a death struggle with Hillary Clinton in the Golden State.