When Sen. John McCain finished a campaign stop in this mid-size
farm town earlier this week, his cheering supporters picked a
homegrown way to say thanks: a crate of freshly picked asparagus.
It lent credence to how one man donning a rain-soaked cowboy hat
characterized California's vast geographic midsection. "It's really
pretty old-fashioned country," he said.
While that may not fit the Golden State stereotype, in political
terms, it's right on the mark, not only for the Central Valley, but
for the state as a whole.
California is, in a political sense, more mainstream than
maverick. And it's so big that it will offer the nation its first
broad-based glimpse of whom Americans want for president when it
votes in next week's cavalcade of Super Tuesday primaries.
Put simply, "this state has become a political microcosm for the
nation," says Mark Baldassare, author of "California in the New
Millennium." And because the state has such a variety of
constituencies, "winning here is more indicative of how a candidate
will do nationally than anywhere else."
The March 7 primaries occur in so many states that they are being
billed as something of a national plebiscite. But given the
likelihood of split results from state to state, many analysts are
drawing a bead on California as the place where voters' presidential
preferences will be most indicative of the national sentiment.
"If you squeezed the nation into a composite, it would look like
California," says John Culver, a political scientist at California
Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo.
Much of California's ability to mirror the nation politically
derives from sheer size. The state's population of 34 million
exceeds that of the other major states that have already held
primaries - New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan, Virginia, and
Washington - combined.
Similarly, the breadth of political constituencies in this state,
which boasts five distinct and large geographic population centers,
also makes it representative.
McCain's trip down the agricultural spine of the state this week
threw a spotlight on an often overlooked constituency. The most
productive agricultural region in the nation, California's Central
Valley is a region of rising immigrants, bedrock conservatism, and
Those features make it ripe for the kind of moderate-
conservative swing voter vital to McCain's success, and reflective
of the constituency both parties will need to secure victory in
Although Los Angeles and San Francisco are the windows through
which the nation frames its image of California, their share of the
state's population is actually declining. More and more people are
living in the Central Valley and the regions south and east of L. …