Campaigning in Influential California

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California holds 10 percent of the total delegates for the Democratic Party and 7 percent of the total delegates for the Republican Party. Longtime California political observer Dan Walters talks about stumping in the Golden State.


In previous primary elections, not a lot of Californians bothered to vote. Less than half of the registered voters turned out. This year, though, California is a Super Tuesday state. And so we go back to Dan Walters, political reporter at the Sacramento Bee to find out what else the candidates need to do to win California.

Mr. DAN WALTERS (Sacramento Bee): Generally our primaries have been in June. It's literally been decades since candidates have treated California as more than simply an ATM machine to cough up money to be spent in other states. They are spending some time here, not non-stop campaigning the way they did in Iowa or New Hampshire. But they are spending some time here in between going to those other places, and as well as, of course, raising money, because that's what California's role tends to be mostly.

BRAND: Talk to me a little bit about Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Will the Republicans look to him for an endorsement? Is he a kingmaker here in California?

Mr. WALTERS: Just the opposite. If Arnold Schwarzenegger endorses somebody in the Republican primary, most Republican voters would probably go the other way. He's very unpopular with the most likely voters of his own party, the very conservative core activists of his own party. They call him a RINO, a Republican in name only, because he has championed a lot of issues that they disagree with, from gun control to abortion rights to environmental protection.

And he is seen as something of, if not a traitor, at least an infidel, within Republican circles. So if he were to endorse someone, I don't know that it would help him very much with those hardcore voters in a Republican primary where turnout is not likely to be huge.

BRAND: But come the general, he might play a big role?

Mr. WALTERS: Come the general, he probably would play a bigger role because you would have a bigger turnout. And his biggest influence would be on probably independents. The independents like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that's about 20 percent of California's electorate these days.

That said, we also have to remember that California is a pretty blue state when it comes to presidential politics. And the chances of a Republican, any Republican, even John McCain or Rudy Giuliani, actually winning California's electoral votes, the chances are somewhere between very slim and none.

If he had a choice among the current crop of Republicans, it probably would be John McCain. There have been kind of rumors from time to time he might endorse John McCain. But I don't know that it would help McCain a lot with those hardcore Republican voters, as I said earlier.

BRAND: Well, let's talk about hardcore Republican voters in California. What are their issues?

Mr. WALTERS: The hardcore Republican voters are a very, very conservative lot. They're against abortion. They don't believe in global warming. They're anti-gun control. They are very, very unhappy about immigration, particularly illegal immigration.

And the moderate Republicans, so-called, have in large measure gravitated over into the independent ranks, as have moderate Democrats, for that matter. That matters because Democrats are the poor(ph) opposite of Republicans. And so because we have such a large and growing independent vote, the voters of the two parties themselves are fairly ideologically rigid - liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. And anybody who campaigns in California for a party nomination, either for state officer or president, has to confront that fact.

BRAND: So given that fact, who do you think is in the best position?

Mr. WALTERS: Having said that, I would say at the moment at least John McCain is for the Republicans because he's been showing signs of life lately. And Giuliani, who was leading in California for months and months and months, has faded probably to third place. That said, it's really very tight among the two or three contenders: Giuliani, Romney and McCain. They are all right bunched up around 20 percent somewhere in the latest polls I've seen.

Hillary Clinton seems to be holding on to her place in California, at least barring the unforeseen. She has staved off the Barack Obama phenomenon in California largely because she got, I think, the endorsements of almost every major Democratic political figure in the state early on, before Obama got into it, and they're kind of with her.

BRAND: Now, more than half of the California voters vote by mail in ballots. So you know, theoretically they could have already voted. And...

Mr. WALTERS: I have.

BRAND: You have. I'm not going to ask who you voted for.

Mr. WALTERS: Well, I didn't vote for anybody because I am an independent. And I didn't vote for anybody in the presidential contest.

BRAND: Okay, well, that's a good journalistic answer. So how do the candidates deal with that?

Mr. WALTERS: You better get in there early, because as you said, half of these votes are going to be cast by mail, and they - some of them will be cast right up to virtually Election Day - some of those so-called absentee voters or mail voters. So it's not all mailed in the weeks in advance, but many of them are.

And that means that in some measure of the California electorate - Democrats and Republicans alike - are somewhat immune to those last minute hits because so many of the votes have been cast before those hits take place. You can't wait until the last minute to campaign in California. You got to get in there. You got to go there early. You got to make your pitch. You got to make your sale long before Election Day if you really want to make it in California.

BRAND: Okay, Dan. Thanks a lot.

Mr. WALTERS: You're welcome.

BRAND: Dan Walters is a political writer for the Sacramento Bee.

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