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As Coalition Forces approached Baghdad International Airport, a Field Poll was conducted in California on the 2004 presidential race. Keep in mind, at the time of the poll, Californians, like the rest of the nation were apprehensive over anticipated brutal street fighting in the streets of Baghdad.
But the poll revealed that if the election were held, President Bush would win California by a five point margin. (He lost the state by a million votes in 2000.)
In fact President Bush will win California in 2004.
There are several reasons for this prediction: A weakened, left-leaning California Democratic Party; an emerging Green Party; the strong showing by republican Bill Simon in last year's gubernatorial race against democrat Gov. Gray Davis. Add voter resentment now building against the democratic governor over anticipated tax increases. Davis' approval ratings are the lowest in California history. In addition, new pragmatic leadership now runs the California Republican party which is now essentially united after years of inter party warfare. Finally Latino turnout declined in the last election, and the Field Poll shows surprisingly high Latino support for President Bush's reelection (36%).
Now for the details.
Just before the Iraq conflict became a shooting war, the California Democratic Party staged its annual convention in Sacramento and showcased the party's contenders for its 2004 presidential nomination. Garry South, who managed California Governor Davis' two campaigns for governor, winced as he watched the party's liberal activists cheer those who denounced the upcoming war and boo those who supported it. South said, worrying aloud that if the war were successful and popular, Democrats could find themselves at odds with the American public in 2004, just as they were during the 1980s.
South's warning will be tested in 2004. Party registration trends are in the GOP's favor. Republican registration, after steady decline, has now begun to rise to 35.2% of registered voters. Democratic registration has dropped to 44.2%. Second, the Field Poll showed that non-partisan voters are divided on the presidential race; a serious problem for democrats who have needed a solid majority of this group to win statewide races.
But the Green Party should prove the real spoiler (as elsewhere in 2000.) With democrat voters' discontent with Davis, the Greens will improve its share of the 2000 vote. Take the 2002 California governor's race. While Green Party registration was only 1.0% of voters at the time, the Green Party candidate for governor, Peter Camejo, captured 5.3% of the vote. Camejo possessed none of the charisma of Ralph Nader. Green Party registration has now reached nearly 2%. Based on the 2002 gubernatorial race, the Green Party presidential candidate could take well over 6% of the vote in 2004.
As a result in part of the Green's growing influence, the incumbent Gray Davis beat a poorly organized, under funded GOP challenger Bill Simon by only five points. Davis raised an astounding $75 million for his reelection bid.
While the state's Democrat Party is in disarray, the California Republican Party has elected new pragmatic leadership. The new party chair, Duf Sundheim, is a proven fundraiser and plans to bring in additional professionals to upgrade the party's voter contact program. For too long the state's GOP has focused on their most regular voters, while the democrats have concentrated on getting out democrat voters who are less likely to vote. Taking a page from Bush Senior Advisor Karl Rove, the new GOP leadership plans to initiate programs to induce low and medium propensity republican voters to vote by mail.
Finally, the Field Poll showed that Latino favor a democrat candidate by a close margin of 42 to 36%. President Bush garnered only 28% of the California Latino vote in 2000. Nationwide, he won 35% of the Hispanic vote. But in 2002 the Latino turnout in California dropped from 13% of the electorate in 1998 to 10%. The low turnout among non-white voters wasn't confined to Latino voters. Also in the 2002 election cycle, the share of black voters among the statewide electorate decreased from 13% to 4%, and the turnout among Asian-American voters dipped from 8% to 6%.
Minority voters have been reliable voters in California for previous democrat presidential candidates. The Gore-Lieberman ticket beat the Bush-Cheney ticket among Latino voters 68% to 28%. The Bush's strong showing in the Field Poll points to a significant improvement among Latino voters in 2004. He's likely to repeat his success in Texas. When Bush ran for reelection as Texas governor in 1998, he broke records for support among Hispanics and blacks (49% and 27%, respectively) after faring poorly among those groups four years earlier.
Finally, the economy is an important issue among California voters. But even here, circumstances favor the President. In vote-rich Southern California, the regional economy has been resilient to the current economic downturn, with low unemployment, steady job growth, and a booming real estate market.
In sum, President Bush can win reelection without California's 55 electoral votes. The 2002 mid-term elections demonstrated his political strength and popularity in nationwide. But he will win reelection in California in 2004 -- and by a healthy margin.
Write to Arthur at firstname.lastname@example.org
Award-winning TV producer, talk show host, and Republican leader Arthur Bruzzone has written over 150 political articles for national and regional media, and has commented on political issues for American and European television and radio networks. His articles and columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Campaign & Elections Magazine, among other publications. He is the former Chair of the San Francisco Republican Party.
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