© Reuters. A campaign yard sign featuring Republican presidential candidates former U.S. President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stands in a front yard in Racine, Wisconsin, U.S., June 27, 2023. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/ File Photo
By Tim Reid and James Oliphant
ANAHEIM, California (Reuters) -Donald Trump campaigned in California on Friday, just two days after skipping the Republican presidential debate there, looking to build support in the state with the biggest prize in his party’s 2024 White House nominating race.
“With your help, we’re going to win the California primary,” the former president said to a crowd of Republican activists and party members who gave him a raucous standing ovation when he took the stage at the California Republican Party convention in Anaheim, 25 miles (40 km) south of Los Angeles.
Trump is the runaway frontrunner to be the party’s nominee in the November 2024 general election, and he used his speech and social media posts on Friday to continue to attack the candidates trailing far behind him.
He derided the poll deficit of his nearest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who trails Trump by 37 percentage points in the most recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll.
“I hit him so hard he’s crashing like a bird wounded in flight,” Trump said.
Speaking at the same event on Friday night, DeSantis didn’t mention Trump by name, instead calling him “one of my residents”, a reference to Trump’s primary home, his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
DeSantis only made one gentle dig at his rival when he pointed out that Trump had taken credit earlier in the day for turning Florida more reliably Republican – rather than DeSantis who won a landslide gubernatorial election there in 2022.
“I just wish he hadn’t turned Georgia and Arizona blue,” DeSantis said, referring to Trump’s defeat in those battleground states when he lost the 2020 election to Democratic President Joe Biden.
Earlier in the day, Trump lobbed another avian-themed insult on his Truth Social media platform at Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, who has been climbing in the polls after strong debate performances.
“Birdbrain doesn’t have the temperament or the talent to do the job,” Trump wrote of Haley, who served as his United Nations ambassador.
“Bring it!,” Haley responded on X, formerly called Twitter.
Earlier in the day, DeSantis appeared at an event at a grain export terminal at the Port of Los Angeles, where he said that burdensome regulations in California and elsewhere hamper American productivity.
DeSantis also restated his criticism of Trump for skipping Wednesday’s debate. “You gotta show up, you gotta answer questions and you gotta defend your record,” DeSantis said.
Democrats will easily win the liberal bastion of California in next year’s general election. But in the battle to become the Republican nominee, California offers the most valuable prize of all. The country’s most populous state has 169 delegates up for grabs on March 5, in a race where winning delegates state by state determines who will capture the nomination.
Trump is set to benefit from a recent rule change in how California’s delegates are awarded.
If he wins more than 50% of the primary vote in the Golden State, he will collect all 169 delegates, rather than have them allocated on a proportional basis.
Many of the delegates who will attend the Republican nominating convention next year were in the crowd at the Anaheim event.
Lori Cisneros, 50, a farmer and teacher from Tehachapi, California, said she hopes to be a Republican delegate next year.
She said she had taken a look at DeSantis and other Republican candidates but still preferred Trump.
“Trump is the one I’m sold on,” she said. “You can’t deny all the things he did over the years to make America great again.”