Of the Boston Globe says Bill Clinton's...

MARTIN NOLAN

April 23, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

MARTIN NOLAN of the Boston Globe says Bill Clinton's running mate should have one job: carry California.

I agree. Without California, Clinton has no chance.

California goes with the winners. In the 35 presidential elections since it became a state, it has voted with the winner 30 times.

It used to not matter. California was a small state in the last century. At the end of the last century it was tied for 20th in population with such hayseed states as South Carolina and Mississippi. It had fewer residents than Kansas. Since 1900, however, California's population has boomed and it has risen to first. It is the most populous state ever in real numbers -- and it has a larger percentage of the votes in the electoral college, where presidents are actually chosen, than any state has since New York in 1868.

In this century, California has voted with the winner 20 of 23 times. A Democrat didn't have to carry California to win the election -- until lately. Jimmy Carter didn't carry it and won in 1976. John F. Kennedy lost California and was elected president in 1960. Woodrow Wilson, ditto in 1912.

But things have changed. The South went for those Democrats. It doesn't do that anymore.

Last year Congressional Quarterly posed the question, "Can a Democrat still win the electoral college vote?" It decided the only states a Democrat could carry were those where the Democratic nominee got at least 45 percent of the vote in 1988. No Southern state made it. In fact, five states in Dixie gave Michael Dukakis less than 40 percent.

But Dukakis carried three Western states (Washington, Oregon, Hawaii) and got over 45 percent of the vote in five others (South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, California). These plus all the 45-percent-plus states in the Middle West and Northeast would give Clinton 274 electoral votes. Give him Arkansas and it's 280. That's 10 more than he needs.

I believe these numbers suggest Clinton has a fighting chance in the West. Barely, and without California's 54 votes, it's back to Little Rock for Bill and Gennifer -- I mean Hillary.

How could Clinton carry California? Best way would be to run with a Californian. Unfortunately there isn't one. Only two Californians on the current scene have the experience Americans expect in a running mate -- senatorial or gubernatorial. They are Jerry Brown (this list has only one way to go -- up, right?) and (surprise!) Alan Cranston.

So that option's out.

Second best way is to run with a candidate with California style. You know, oomph. I don't know who Marty Nolan would pick, but my own short list is, Sen. Bill Bradley, because he was a pro basketball player, Sen. Bob Kerrey, because he won the Congressional Medal of Honor and dates Debra Winger, and Sen. Ted Kennedy, just because. They have the sort of star quality Californians love.

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