April 26, 2003

THAR'S GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS

Bush's Popularity, Davis' Woes Loosen Party's Tight Grip on State (Beth Fouhy, Apr 26, 2003, Associated Press)
Call it the land of latte liberals or the "left coast." No matter what the nickname, the fact is that for more than a decade Democratic strategists have relied on a formula for winning the White House that begins and ends with California.

The Golden State has been a rich source of campaign cash for presidential hopefuls, and since 1992, as Republicans have surged in the South and the West, California's mother lode of 54 electoral votes has been essential for the Democratic nominee pursuing the magic 270 needed to capture the nation's top job.

In any strategy to unseat President Bush in 2004, winning California is imperative. But more than a year out, the political landscape is proving a bit rocky for Democrats. The state faces a staggering $35 billion budget deficit, and the blame is falling largely on Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, who captured a second term last year in a race that reflected widespread ambivalence.

Since then, Davis has faced a grass-roots recall effort and his approval ratings have plummeted to an all-time low of 27 percent, according to a recent Field Poll. The same survey showed President Bush, who lost California to Al Gore by 12 percentage points in 2000, beating a generic Democratic nominee 45 percent to 40 percent.

And none of the nine Democratic candidates fighting for the party's nod have managed to make much of an impression in the state.

So long as the Democrats can win CA without even trying, they always have a chance to win the presidency and the House in any given election (though the Senate is gone for the forseeable future). Break their hold on CA and make them pump major resources into the state and you open up at least the possibility, though not the likelihood, of reducing Democrats to their pre-Depression status as a permanent minority party. At that point, reform of Social Security and other entitlements and genuine reductions in government become possible. That's too inviting a prospect not to at least give it a shot. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 26, 2003 8:13 AM
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