California: Gore's To Lose

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Al Gore begins a two-and-a-half day swing through California on Friday. He plans to hold what the campaign calls "open meetings" with voters about community safety and economic development, but the key stops will be fund-raising events in two regions that help keep the Golden State golden for politicians - Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

More on that later.

Gore continues to lead statewide polls by about 10 points over George W. Bush - though Republicans say the margin is smaller. But in the March 7 open primary, Bush and fellow Republican John McCain together garnered about 600,000 more votes than Democrats Gore and Bill Bradley. Though primary participation was skewed to favor older voters and conservative Republicans, the results may prove reason enough for Gore to stay on his toes in the nation's richest electoral state.

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"It’s cause to pay continued attention to California, but I don’t think it’s cause for concern," says Julie Buckner, a Democratic strategist who worked on Bill Clinton’s successful ’92 and ’96 California campaigns.

"I think it’s Gore’s to lose," says Bruce Cain, Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. But, adds Cain, California is "not completely out of the question for (Bush) to win."

And at this early stage in the campaign, the Texas governor has shown no signs of conceding California and spending his resources elsewhere. On a West Coast visit last week, Bush said, "I know there’s a rumor going around … that maybe I'm not going to compete in California. That’s wishful thinking."

Though the Bush campaign promises their candidate will visit California at least once a month, Democrats insist the governor's positions on gun control and abortion will keep him out of touch with the state’s voters.

ne group of voters in touch with both candidates is Silicon Valley’s high-tech executives. On Friday evening, Gore will attend an event sponsored by the Democratic National Committee at a private home near San Jose. The dinner is expected to raise $2.5 million for the DNC.

On Saturday, Gore will join President Clinton at a Los Angeles DNC fund-raiser hosted by movie mogul David Geffen. The vice president has already raised about $800,000 from the entertainment industry, according to the most recent figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Beverly Hills event will be a rare joint appearance for Gore and his boss.

"It’s a sign that it isn’t hurtful for him to be seen with Clinton in California," says Claremont Graduate University political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, when asked about the significance of the event.

Exit polling after the California primary showed Mr. Clinton enjoyed a whopping 90 percent job approval rating among registered Democratic voters. In a statewide Field Poll conducted in February, 64 percent of all registered voters said they approved of the job the president had done.

Those numbers are icing on the cake for Bob Mulholland, a campaign adviser for the state’s Democratic Party. He sees Gore’s victory foreshadowed in the success of Democratic Governor Gray Davis, who was elected by a 20-point margin in 1998.

"Gov. Davis is a twin of Al Gore," says Mulholland, who adds that they share a similar centrist view of politics, a similar background and the same level of charisma (or lack thereof). He also believes Davis will be an effective messenger for Gore, especially in the fall campaign season, when resources and time are tight. Bush "has no real elected leadership to lean on," says Mulholland, who predicts the Texas governor will rely on out-of-state surrogates to campaign on his behalf.

But Gore may have a more important secret weapon than Davis, or even Clinton, in California.

Mark DiCamillo, a pollster with the nonprofit Field Institute, points out that exit polling from the March primary shows strong approval for Mr. Clinton among two key swing groups in the state: nonpartisan independents and Latinos. "Both of these groups are quite positive to Clinton," says DiCamillo.

If that good will continues through November, it could secure a Gore victory here.