Big states left out of campaign


Election: Vote-rich California, Texas and New York are all but ignored by presidential candidates who see them as already sewed up.

October 13, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. - Sitting in the P.G. Juice `N' Java just three weeks before Election Day, Teta Martin says she hasn't seen many signs of the presidential contest that has gripped the nation for the past year.

"Where is it? We've seen nothing. I think California is being left out," says Martin, 65, of San Mateo. "Personally, I think they know what's going to happen here."

Across the table, Teta's sister Casey Gilles, 55, who lives in Carson City, Nev., says she is experiencing a much different election season, with President Bush and Sen. John Kerry both showing up to stump in her state - one of a handful of battlegrounds that could decide this year's winner - and TV advertisements saturating the airwaves.

"All of a sudden, we're a big deal - we're bombarded," says Gilles, a teacher, sounding as if she'd rather be left alone. Then her face brightens. "It does feel kind of good," she concedes. "Usually we're forgotten."

Forgotten. Left out. Second-class citizens.

These are the laments of many Californians who - despite living in the most populous state, being part of the world's fourth-largest economy and casting the largest number of votes in the Electoral College - have been bypassed in the race for the White House, because both candidates expect Democrats to win handily here.

Other states largely sitting on the sidelines in this year's race include Bush's home state of Texas, which has 34 electoral votes, and New York, which has 31 - the next two most populous and electoral vote-rich states. Their electoral votes, combined with California's 55, make up 44 percent of all the votes in the Electoral College, which chooses the president after the election.

This year's race is being played out in divided states such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa - where both candidates see a chance to gain electoral votes. Here in California and much of the rest of the country, there is virtually no presidential campaign.

"It makes no sense for either party to campaign here," said Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Bush would have to sweep the country to take California, he said: "If Bush needs it, he's not going to win it, and if he wins it, he's not going to need it."

The Electoral College system practically mandates that presidential candidates play geographic favorites. In every state except Maine and Nebraska, the candidate who garners the plurality or majority of the popular vote claims all the electoral votes. Democrat Al Gore won California by 12 percentage points in 2000.

And so California has no TV campaign ads, except those that air on cable. There are no rallies or town hall meetings with the candidates. There is no breathless talk about who is up or down in statewide polls. (A Los Angeles Times poll conducted Sept. 17-21 showed Kerry leading Bush in California by 15 points, about the same edge he had in February.)

In Gilroy, people can tell you you're in the garlic capital of the world and recite the substance of many of the 16 propositions on the ballot Nov. 2, but they can't remember the last time they saw a presidential candidate in the flesh.

Indian tribes and supporters of card rooms and racetracks have spent $45 billion to date on ads to promote propositions that would expand gambling in California, and political consultants here expect the tribes to spend as much as $25 million more before Election Day.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been traveling the state lobbying against the propositions. Last week, he said: "We don't want to turn California into one big Vegas."

Then again, Kerry and Bush both are planning visits to Las Vegas tomorrow. They don't have similar plans for its neighbor to the west.

As the presidential race tightens, the candidates' advertising focus is narrowing. During the past two weeks, markets in just 10 battleground states - Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin - made up 44 out of the top 50 "advertised-to" markets, according to analysis by Nielson Monitor-Plus and the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project.

Those markets, which comprise 27 percent of potential U.S. voters, have seen 87 percent of presidential ads. That leaves more than 70 percent of voters who are not being exposed to the TV spots, a critical part of modern presidential campaigns.

That's ironic because the money that is fueling the ad wars has come in large part from the states that are not seeing them. Californians have supplied one-fifth of Kerry's campaign cash, according to federal campaign finance disclosures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group, with 14 percent of the Democrat's donations coming from the equally ignored New York.

Texas is Bush's top source of campaign donations, supplying 13 percent, with California a close second at 10 percent, the center found.

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