Gore, Bush campaigns dance "Texas two-step" in California
While state leans Democratic, the GOP cedes no ground
LOS ANGELES (CNN) --Although California and its coveted 54 electoral votes have swung Democratic in the last two presidential elections, the state remains a behemoth in American politics that presumptive Democratic nominee Vice President Al Gore cannot afford to take for granted.
Although Gore holds a 12-point advantage over his Republican rival Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the most recent CNN polls, the governor is already wooing Golden State voters with something of a Texas two-step that promises to keep Democrats on their toes.
"There's a little dance that goes on here. The Republicans have to pretend that they're going to pursue California and try to be competitive to suck the Democrats into spending some money," said Bill Carrick, a political strategist who served as senior consultant to the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1996.
The vice president can take solace in the fact that his boss remains immensely popular in the Golden State, in part due to the booming economy that emerged from the recession of the early 1990s.
But neither this year's Democratic convention in Los Angeles nor past results by President Clinton guarantee Gore a lock on the state in 2000. President Clinton's margins of victory in California -- 46 percent in 1992 and 51 percent in 1996 in three-way races that involved Reform Party candidate Ross Perot -- were respectable, but not overwhelming.
Although most of coastal California has clearly trended toward the Democrats, much of inland California has gone the other way. Yet Republicans still face a mammoth challenge if they choose to contest the entire state.
Republicans had initially hoped that Bush -- who attracted large percentages of Hispanics voters during his two races for governor -- can make inroads against the Democrats among California's influential Latino community.
At one point in 1999, the Texas governor enjoyed the backing of roughly 30 percent of California's Latino population before that support plummeted to just 18 percent this year, according to the latest California Field Poll.
"What George W. Bush has to do with Latinos here in California is continue doing what he's been doing here for almost two years now. He's done extensive interviews with Spanish-language newspapers, Spanish-language television," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican strategist.
Although in national surveys Bush has polled better that many other Republicans among women voters, the Texas governor faces an uphill challenge among minority women in California.
"Women who are ethnic minorities, either black or minorities, are much more likely to prefer Gore over Bush than any other female constituency," said Mark DiCamillo, director to the Field Poll. "At the other extreme, if you look at white women, particularly married white women, you find that Bush is preferred by double-digits over Gore."
Gains among suburban voters also provide hope among Bush supporters in the Golden State.
"When you're really looking at the interesting and up-for-grab suburban vote, it's the vote around Los Angeles County where the polls are showing a race is fairly close," said DiCamillo, who added that Bush enjoys a slim lead in other southern California counties, as well as the San Diego area.
Republicans haven't carried the Golden State since 1988, when Bush's father -- then Vice President George Bush -- edged out Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis en route to the White House.
But as he faced long odds against Clinton in 1992, the elder Bush cut his losses and pulled his campaign out of California early in the election cycle. The next Republican nominee, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, followed suit when he faced the same prospects against Clinton in 1996.
With a bigger picture in mind, California Republicans have urged Bush not to follow his father's exodus from the Golden State. Strategists argue that the Texas governor's strong presence at the top of the ticket would help GOP congressmen fend off stiff Democratic challenges in four key battleground districts.