A move the California Republican Party made last year to allow endorsements of statewide candidates at the party convention prior to the primary may provide dividends in the first election cycle in which it is attempted. This weekend at the San Diego convention, leading Republican gubernatorial candidates John Cox and Travis Allen will vie for the party endorsement.

Republicans are desperate to have one of their own in the gubernatorial race so that Republican voters will have a reason to care and come out to vote. If Republicans stay home other GOP candidates, notably those challenged in congressional races by an energized Democratic Party, could be in jeopardy.

There is evidence that the lack of Republican candidates in high profile races turned GOP voters off in the last statewide election. In 2016, with no Republican in the U.S. Senate contest, nearly 2 million more voters cast ballots in the presidential race than in the Senate contest. If there is no Republican in the governor’s contest, the most visible race in the coming General Election, Republican consultants fear that party voters just might stay home.

Despite many reservations by party members opposed to the top two primary system, the party decided to go the endorsement route because the top two primary presented a scenario that no Republican might appear in statewide contests.

Pete Peterson, the Republican candidate for Secretary of State in 2016, thinks the top two primary could actually help the party if members are willing to engage on endorsements. He believes endorsements can bring the party together behind one candidate thus making the party relevant in the political process instead of sitting on the sidelines.

Both Cox and Allen are fighting fiercely to be a top two finisher in June and contest for the governor’s office in November. In a recent UC Berkeley IGS poll, Cox was in second place slightly ahead of Allen both trailing Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom but firmly ahead of former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

However, the poll was conducted before millions of dollars of television ads on Villaraigosa’s behalf started hitting the airwaves.

Many Republicans feel they must coalesce around one candidate to make sure that a candidate has a chance to make the runoff.

So far that is not happening.

While Cox is spending more money in his quest for the job and picking up important endorsements from the likes of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, some legislators, congress members, some county committees and local officials, Allen has also garnered support from a number of his GOP colleagues in the legislature while reeling in a collection of GOP county committee endorsements, made up of some of the party’s most active members.

The party bylaws calls for a 60% vote to achieve the party’s endorsement. Voting continues until only two candidates remain and if neither candidate can achieve the 60% mark in one final vote no endorsement is earned.

While news was made at the recent Democratic Party convention when Dianne Feinstein failed to achieve her party’s endorsement over state senator Kevin de León, in reality, there is small significance to that event because Feinstein is well known to California voters.

The Republican circumstance is different. Neither leading Republican gubernatorial candidate is well known and the state party endorsement, if used smartly, could make a difference. Republicans are projected to outperform their registration numbers in the coming primary. While Republicans make up just under 26% of registered voters, they are projected to make up about one-third of all primary voters.

While endorsements of any kind have a questionable track record of turning elections, in the California gubernatorial race of 2018, it is possible the GOP party endorsement might make an important difference—if it can be achieved—in determining a finalist in the top two primary and affect voter turnout which could decide the outcome of other November races, as well.