Magazine article Insight on the News

Bush Has a Chance at Winning Increasingly Left-Leaning California

Magazine article Insight on the News

Bush Has a Chance at Winning Increasingly Left-Leaning California

Article excerpt

Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush can win California in November, but it will be no mean task. No Republican president has ever won the White House without winning the Golden State, and the statewide polls in June showed Bush behind Vice President Al Gore by a substantial 11 percentage points. In the last eight years, only one top-of-the-ticket candidate -- moderate former governor Pete Wilson -- has won any of the state's elections for governor, president or U.S. senator.

Bush might wonder why there is any GOP malaise in a state that has elected Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and a host of GOP stalwarts, and when polls show him leading Gore by 10 points nationwide.

There are many reasons for this, some not amenable to any obvious correction. Since January the Democrats have enjoyed an 11 percent edge in voter registration. Bill Clinton won one-third of his total national majority in 1996 from California voters and retains high approval ratings in California despite impeachment. The booming economy helps Gore. And, according to Steve Hayward of the Pacific Research Institute, recent term-limit laws destroyed the Republican district machines that once gave strength to statewide and national candidates. Bush must address this organizational vacuum.

The Democrats have some strong issues on the Left Coast. Democratic Gov. Gray Davis used gun control and abortion in his sound drubbing of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren just two years ago. If these issues govern the fall election, the Bush campaign truly is in deep grass.

Yet it is not clear that guns and abortion will play the same role this November. The same poll that shows Bush trailing Gore in the state also shows that the Democrats' favorite issues are not driving the election this year. Rather, the top-four issues for California voters are, according to the survey: the economy, education, appointments to the Supreme Court (possibly the abortion issue in disguise) and knowledge of foreign affairs. Bush is not a clear master of any of these issues but, then again, none of them are clearly Democratic issues this time around. He is "on course" with his own issues -- social security, taxes and defense.

Most observers agree that Bush has to make a good showing among Latinos. But what is a good showing? More than half the state's Mexican-Americans are under 35 years old and registered as Democrats. Bush should improve on the 18 percent of the vote won by Lungren in 1998 and perhaps may exceed the roughly 30 percent won by Wilson in 1992. Among Latino voters Reagan's 40 percent remains the high-water mark for Republicans. …

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