If you were to base a prediction of this year's presidential election on the results of the previous four, California might not be a state you look at twice. More than likely, you'd toss it into the Democratic column. But a senior advisor to John McCain's presidential campaign says that the Arizona Senator will be making a serious play for the Golden State in the Fall.
"If he can pull it off," said the advisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, "it will be more than enough to boost McCain up over the 270 mark if the final electoral vote count gets close."
Though many consider California to be a Democratic stronghold, its tendencies to lean blue have only really taken hold in recent years. Bill Clinton touched off a trend when he won the west coast state in 1992, winning it again in 1996 before Al Gore took it for himself in 2000. John Kerry followed suit in 2004. But prior to that, Democrats had an unbroken losing streak in California going back six presidential elections. In fact, historically speaking, Democrats took California only one time - behind Johnson in 1964 - in the four decades between 1952 and Clinton's appearance in 1992.
But this time around, things might not be as straightforward in California. Unlike the four most recent presidential contests (1992 - 2004), the GOP candidate isn't appealing to the Republican rank-and-file. Instead, he's taking aim at moderates and independents, and California is stock full of them.
McCain's potential for success lay in two specific areas: the first has to do with the hole left by Hillary Clinton's exit earlier this month. Her absence means that the Clinton voting bloc - working class whites, and women middle age and older - could be within McCain's reach. And as the McCain camp told the Washington Post last week, they'll be making a pitch for both of those demographics.
"Think about it," the advisor said, "Obama turned in an under whelming performance at best here in the primary back in February. If we can add a significant portion of Clinton's votes to the strong contingent Senator McCain already has in California, it should be enough to put him over the top."
The second possibility for a McCain victory in California is the enormous Hispanic population there. His support for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill of 2007- which would have provided a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the US- cost him dearly among Republicans, but it could be a selling point if he hopes to cash in among the fastest growing ethnic group in the country.
Success for the GOP with either or both groups could be a recipe for victory in the Fall.
Moreover, McCain will have significant help from the state's reasonably popular Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who proved that California isn't entirely averse to the GOP when it reelected him in a landslide back in 2006. Schwarzenegger endorsed McCain prior to the state's primary, and is working with the campaign to bring his state into the fold for Republicans.
At the very least, a close race in California could force Obama to focus more of his attention on the west coast, which would mean he would have to reallocate funds and resources from other places that might be competitive as well.
Still, the advisor acknowledged that taking the cache of 55 electoral votes up for grabs in California is a tall order. "Look, I'm not saying that this is the most likely scenario. But I certainly think we've got a chance to succeed in a big way where no one is expecting it. And that alone could be enough to swing the election."
Consider the fact that both John Kerry and Al Gore defeated George W. Bush by double digits in California. Recent polling by the LA Times only puts McCain behind Obama in California by 7 points. If McCain can manage to attract the wayward Clinton voters into his camp, he may put California into serious contention in the general election.