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How Donald Trump built his base in the Golden State

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has built an enthusiastic base of supporters in California, despite the state historically voting Democratic over the past two decades. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS)
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California has voted primarily blue for the past 24 years, a reliable stronghold for the Democratic Party. Yet only 45 percent of likely registered California voters are Democrats, leaving 55 percent in the “other” category.

Donald Trump won the state’s Republican primary in June with more than three-fourths of the vote. Millions of Californians will likely vote for him next month in the general election, just as more than 4 million Californians voted for Mitt Romney four years ago. Although Trump has consistently trailed Hillary Clinton in state polls, the fact remains that he has found strong support in the Golden State.

The final weeks of the campaign, which has become coarser and more negative on both sides, have only seemed to strengthen the resolve of many of Trump’s most passionate backers.

Trump has built an enthusiastic statewide base – including minorities — who are hoping that his strict border controls and economic overhaul will sway voters to their side. Dozens of grassroots groups that started with Meetup and Facebook get-togethers have been knitted together to form a large campaign front that wants to revert to conservative, Reaganesque form of government.

“We had 172 delegates at the convention who were just vibrant and alive — energized, motivated, regular folks. Seventy percent were brand new and had never been there before,” said Tim Clark, the California director for Trump’s campaign. “I see young millennials for Trump and all ethnicities, professionals and doctors, students and mom-and-pop business owners. A wide variety. His support base is very broad.”

Clark was hired to manage the state’s campaign in April and as soon as the word got out, his email inbox was flooded with more than 1,000 messages a day, he said. A large number of voters who had never volunteered for any political process wanted to help staff phone banks, stage rallies, go door-to-door and even help the swing states with phone calls.

Perhaps the biggest group in this category in California is Latinos With Trump, which has thousands of supporters and has expanded across the state and even into other countries, the campaign said.

“There’s a narrative in the media that there’s not a lot of Latino support [for Trump] — it’s a lie, it’s a complete lie,” said critical care nurse Jorge Herrera, who founded Latinos With Trump. “There’s no reason why we can’t have a secure border and immigration reform, it’s not racist. Every other country supports a border. You can’t just hop the border and go get a job. I can’t just decide to go get a job in Canada.”

Latinos With Trump holds rallies every month in the Los Angeles area. A Long Beach campaign office recently opened, attracting 300 people on the first day of “every kind of race — Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Latino,” Herrera said.

Los Angeles real estate developer Felix Veiga says he runs into Latino supporters everywhere, including USC’s Mexican American Alumni Association, and they have the same mindset: “We don’t want illegals of any race coming here any longer, at least now. They go on our social programs, welfare programs, they take advantage of our schools. We’re not even taking care of our veterans.”

The second hot button of Trump’s candidacy is his relationships with women. In California, more than half of the campaign’s volunteers are female, Clark said.

“I can think of a dozen women right now who support him,” said Carolyn Mack, 49, of Riverside County. “I am concerned by the future of the country and the issues at hand. I am not concerned with stupid things he said 11 years ago.”

Trump’s tape recording with Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush doesn’t rise to the level of Hillary Clinton’s misdeeds, she said.

“His words were inappropriate, he apologized and said he regretted those words and I accept that,” Mack said. “I see numerous examples of women who have worked with him and say he is not that way and they have never been treated that way. I’m focused on the future and what he says he can do for the future.”

Like the rest of Trump’s supporters, Mack was not recruited by the Republican Party and found her own way to the campaign. She is an East Coast transplant who volunteered for the last Bush campaign but hasn’t been involved in politics since. Now she spends a few hours a week on a phone bank from her home calling fellow Californians but will soon switch to calling voters in swing states. Last week, she attended a roadside rally and she also continuously posts to Facebook and Twitter.

“The mainstream media is not doing their job; we’re trying to do it for them by spreading the word,” she said. “I’ve been getting a lot of reposts on the Project Veritas video about the DNC promoting voter fraud. I’m really concerned about that.”

Dr. Jeff Barke is a family practitioner in Orange County. Originally a Ben Carson supporter after hearing the neurosurgeon speak at a prayer breakfast, Barke and his wife switched to Trump when Carson dropped out. Barke lists his concerns as the military, Supreme Court, excessive taxation, free educational choice, abortion and, of course, Obamacare.

“For me, because I’m a doctor, my world is medicine,” Barke said. “Trump is in support of abolishing Obamacare and replacing it with a market-based system to help America’s health care. I think Obamacare was designed to fail so the left could replace it with a single-payer, European-style system.”

To that end, Barke has spent his free time volunteering for Trump by speaking out against Obamacare at rallies and meetings that he organizes with medical professionals and civic groups.

In his talks, Barke compares Obamacare to something all Californians hate: the Department of Motor Vehicles. With premiums rising up to 57 percent next year, taxes paying for undocumented immigrant health care and excessive regulations that drive away insurance companies, the insurance industry is in a downward spiral, Barke claims.

“There is nothing the government does efficiently,” he said. “If you look at Canada, there is a reason why people come to the United States for health care. We’ll end up with a two-tiered system, where the really wealthy always get the care they need and the middle class and poor will get DMV care.”

No doubt about it, California has one of the toughest regulatory climates in the nation — Chief Executive Magazine has called it the worst place to do business for 12 years in row. A Trump presidency will prevent more business from fleeing the state, a trend felt particularly hard in the Silicon Valley, said Jon Cordova, the California communications director for Trump’s campaign.

Cordova, an executive at a San Francisco tech firm in, became a delegate alternate because he was “pissed off” at where the country was headed, he said. His wife was selected as a delegate.

Like the rest of his colleagues, Cordova’s job with the campaign is a volunteer one that started after the Republican convention.

“I’m just a regular person who started these meetup groups in Richmond, San Ramon, and elsewhere,” he said. “I put it on the web and people just started showing up. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make America great again.”

Next week: A look inside Hillary Clinton’s campaign in California.

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