LOS ANGELES (AP) — Donald Trump, the outsider, is making his case to California’s Republican establishment after he kicked off his crucial campaign for the state’s presidential primary with an enormous rally marred by confrontations between protesters and his supporters on the streets.
The front-runner and his two rivals pitch their campaigns from the stage and in behind-the-scenes cajoling at the GOP convention outside San Francisco, with Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich appearing Friday and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and his new running mate, Carly Fiorina, up Saturday.
It’s a key event in the campaign for the nation’s largest GOP primary, June 7, an exercise that usually comes after the party nominees are known but this time looms as a decisive contest that could either clinch the prize for Trump or force him into a contested convention in July.
All three candidates are looking to galvanize supporters, sway undecided party members or poach from rival campaigns at the convention. “It’s going to be a free-for-all,” predicted the state party vice chairman, Harmeet Dhillon.
That label clearly applied to Trump’s Orange County rally Thursday night, which filled the Pacific Amphitheatre to its capacity of about 18,000, with many hundreds more turned away.
Protests that stayed mostly peaceful during the event grew in size and anger after. Police in riot gear and on horseback pushed the crowd back and away from the arena; one Trump supporter had his face bloodied in a scuffle as he tried to drive away. One man jumped on a police car, leaving its front and rear windows smashed and the top dented and other protesters sprayed graffiti on a police car and the venue’s marquee.
About 20 people were arrested, said the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Trump’s remaining rivals can’t beat him in what’s left of the primary season. Their only hope is to deny him a majority of delegates heading into the July convention and wrestle for the prize in multiple ballots there.
But questions persist in the party — nationally and in California — about Trump’s electability in the fall and his conservative credentials. So the reception Trump in particular receives from the state’s party activists and grassroots organizers will be noteworthy. He rarely speaks to Republican establishment groups and he rails against what he calls a rigged party system that governs the nomination.
The convention crowd defies expectation in a state known as a Democratic fortress. There have been pushes toward moderation, but the group tends toward conservative leanings and favors calls for free markets, tax cuts and shrinking the size of government. It’s also socially conservative: The state party’s platform defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and wants the Supreme Court’s affirmation of abortion rights reversed.
Trump has spoken favorably about Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services. He has warned against cutting into Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, often targets for conservatives who want to slow government spending.
When Trump earlier this month said transgender people should be able to use whichever bathroom they choose, Cruz’s campaign released a statement saying Trump was “no different from politically correct leftist elites.” The California platform endorses free markets; Trump has long criticized U.S. trade policy and advocated steep tariffs on Chinese goods.
The California primary will award 172 delegates. Trump now has 994 delegates, Cruz has 566 and Kasich has 153, according to the AP’s delegate count. It takes 1,237 to clinch the nomination.
Follow Michael R. Blood on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MichaelRBloodAP .