BURLINGAME, Calif. -- The Republican Party in California has been split for decades between those who want it to tack to the ideological center to expand its diminishing appeal and those who want it to enforce conservative purity.
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But the prospect of Donald Trump clinching the nomination in the Golden State has scrambled the party's political fault lines in advance of its June primary, forging unexpected alliances that blur those longstanding divisions.
Tea party favorite Ted Cruz was endorsed Saturday by former Gov. Pete Wilson, a centrist who raised taxes and feuded regularly with conservatives.
Trump, meanwhile, has snapped up support from stalwarts on California's right, like conservative activist Ted Costa and former state Sen. Tony Strickland, and its middle, like former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose.
Cruz might also be helped by big-tent Republicans trying to stop Trump.
"There's always been that conservative versus moderate, can you speak to the middle or only to the base? And this transcends that," said Tim Clark, Trump's state director and a seasoned GOP strategist.
Elsewhere, Carly Fiorina, a newly minted vice presidential hopeful, spoke at the California Republican Party convention at a hotel outside San Francisco's airport Saturday night. Fiorina brought the crowd to its feet with a series of zingers aimed at Trump, mocking the front-runner for his insistence the previous day that he essentially had the nomination sewn up.
"The 30-yard line ain't a touchdown. The 20-yard line ain't a touchdown. The 5-yard line ain't a touchdown. It ain't a touchdown until it's a touchdown," Fiorina said, adding: "I'm sorry, you cannot just throw an 'R' on your jersey and say you believe what our party stands for."
Fiorina grew up in the Bay Area and became chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard before plunging into politics with an unsuccessful run against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010.
Fiorina hopes to run on a ticket with Cruz, who's mathematically eliminated from becoming the GOP presidential nominee unless the Republican National Convention is contested. Fiorina left California for Virginia shortly after losing her Senate race and didn't pay several California operatives for years, until she was running for president herself in this year's primaries.
"She campaigned in this state very well, she won with these voters," said Rob Stutzman, a GOP operative helping with efforts to defeat Trump in the primary, referring to the base GOP voters who backed Fiorina in 2010. "She was a good Republican candidate here. She's the perfect surrogate for Cruz."
California caps the Republican contest with its June 7 primary. It will be the first time in memory that the state's unusual system could decide a presidential nomination. The state will parcel out most of its delegates to the winners of each of its 53 congressional districts, with only 13 going to the statewide winner.
California, the home turf of Richard Nixon and Reagan, was once a reliable Republican state in presidential elections. But the party's fortunes started to erode in the late 1990s after a series of measures targeting immigrants, which alienated growing segments of the state's population. In 2007, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned party members that the GOP was "dying at the box office."
The party has continued to shrivel -- Republican registration accounts for just 28 percent of the state total. Democrats control every statewide office and both chambers of the Legislature. Republicans consider it a victory just to win one-third of state legislative races so they can have a say in state budgeting.
And analysts warn that a polarizing figure like Trump might actually worsen the party's relationship with California's growing number of Hispanic and Asian voters.
"He does nothing to ease that," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at the University of Southern California.
Information for this article was contributed by Nicholas Riccardi, Michael R. Blood and Bob Christie of The Associated Press and by Cindy Carcamo, Richard Winton and Ruben Vives of the Los Angeles Times.
A Section on 05/01/2016