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In Calif., Things Are A Little Different

Actor Brad Pitt, left, joins Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary, Treasurer Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO at a news conference in support for Proposition 87 oil tax, at the County Federation of Labor headquarter in Los Angeles, Monday, Nov. 7, 2006. Proposition 87 is a California ballot measure that would tax oil to fund alternative energy research. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
AP
California's top Democrats spent the waning hours before Tuesday's election trying to boost voter turnout amid fears that their weak gubernatorial candidate, Phil Angelides, could be a drag on the ticket, even as Democrats are expected to surge nationwide and possibly recapture the majority in Congress.

California has been something of an island this midterm election, with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lobbying for votes as Angelides, a political independent and the top Democrat on the ticket who serves as the state treasurer, has failed to excite voters about his gubernatorial candidacy.

Angelides' sagging poll numbers have some concerned he could weigh down the Democrats, who are in tight races in California for lieutenant governor, secretary of state and controller.

Angelides was making a final push Monday with some hand-holding from three of his party's best known leaders in the state: U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

At a spirited rally at Los Angeles City College, Feinstein said Tuesday's election is about much more than who controls California. She told around 200 students that their vote will send a message to the White House about its policies on the Iraq war, minimum wage, health care, education and stem cell research.

"I remember the day when the United States of America was the most admired country in the world. Does anyone believe that's true today?" Feinstein said to loud cheers of "No." "That's the message this election sends, and there's only one way to send it. ... And that's by voting for Democrats up and down the slate."

Schwarzenegger, whose campaign has been on autopilot for weeks, took two calls at the Republican phone banking operation in Irvine on Monday.

Volunteers were calling Republican voters and urging them to vote yes on a referendum that would require parents to be notified when teenagers seek abortions. The referendum is being held in conjunction with the elections.

The issue appeals to the Republican base, although Schwarzenegger has not emphasized it in his campaign for fear of alienating moderates. When the governor got on the phone, he ignored the abortion measure and spoke instead about infrastructure bonds.

Democratic strategists dispute critics' assertions that Angelides' prospects will discourage Democrats from voting.

"What gets Democrats very excited is saying, 'Let's shove it to Bush,"' said Kam Kuwata, a strategist for Feinstein.

Kuwata said Schwarzenegger's centrist campaign, as well as disappointment among conservatives in the party nationally, could keep Republicans away from the polls.

"I don't really think Republicans have a strong message to turn out the vote," he said.

Only two House races in California are deemed competitive by political analysts.

Ahead of election day, Democratic party leaders also have been focusing energy on the battle to pass a referendum they have linked to the fight against global warming.

Former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and Feinstein have all campaigned for the measure, which would fund research into alternative energy by taxing the oil produced in California.

Oil companies have responded with an onslaught of advertising to defeat the measure, which they say will make gasoline more expensive. The measure has become California's most expensive ballot fight.