The appearance comes a week after a new poll found DeSantis leading former Pres. Donald Trump among California Republican voters.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- He's become one of California Governor Gavin Newsom's biggest rivals: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. And on Sunday, the potential Republican presidential candidate will be making a visit to California, headlining a fundraiser for the Orange County Republican Party and speaking to a sold-out crowd at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
The appearance comes a week after a new poll from the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found DeSantis leading former President Donald Trump among California Republican voters.
"The reality is that this is kind of the shadow primary," Paul Mitchell, a political pollster and the VP of Political Data Inc., told ABC7 News. "This is the primary when maybe it's not official that he's running, but the fundraising dollars, the attention, the polls, the media coverage, it's really right now, converging right now around a Trump versus DeSantis kind of race."
Although DeSantis has not announced his run for president, Mitchell and Republican political consultant Rob Stutzman said the visit is yet another sign DeSantis is testing the waters about a likely campaign.
"The whole press, national political press, will probably be in attendance and watching carefully to see how DeSantis does in this speech," Stutzman explained. "When people stop and give speeches at the Reagan Library, it's an opportunity for them to give a significant policy speech, political speech."
"He, of course, has a new book out that he's trying to sell that's supposedly a bit of a blueprint of where his campaign may go," he added.
California has, and remains, a major source of fundraising for presidential campaigns, but there may be more reasons for candidates to come to the state in the 2024 cycle. California Republican voters could play a large role in determining the Republican presidential nominee now that the state's primary has been moved up to Super Tuesday.
"We should expect that our primary is going to be the biggest state of Super Tuesday and be, for many candidates, the kind of make or break," Mitchell said.
The Berkeley IGS poll showed DeSantis with 37% support among likely California Republican voters. Former President Trump followed at 27%, followed by former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley at 7%.
"What's important is that while we're seeing Trump have a little bit of weakness at this period in the election cycle, it isn't like Republicans have all gone vegetarian and started reading the New York Times," Mitchell explained. "We're seeing an electorate that's still is very, kind of, MAGA and still very conservative, and I think DeSantis is trying to capture some of that brand."
For the Republican Party, California is not a winner take all state. Delegates in the California primary are split up and based on who wins congressional districts.
"So, here's the other way to think about it," Stutzman explained. "If you are Republican that live in San Francisco, in Nancy Pelosi's district -- one of the most liberal districts in America -- when it comes to the delegates, nominating the Republican nominee, your vote actually probably matters more than a Republican in Kevin McCarthy's district in Kern County, because proportionally you just have more power."
"So, it's kind of a unique opportunity for, say, Republicans who live in urban areas to have some sway in who the nominee may be," he added.
As for DeSantis, Stutzman said he may have Governor Newsom to thank for his growing support among California Republicans. Newsom often contrasts California policies to those in Florida and, by doing so, may have helped raise his profile in the state.
"There is an irony," Stutzman said. "It's like pro-wrestling, because they really help each other out, when they attack one another, with their bases."
"This is my conjecture," he added. "I think there's a little bit of Republicans, who lived under a blue state regime during COVID, have a little but more of an affinity for the Florida governor than maybe some people in other states do at this point."
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