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Trump’s California problem

  • Published at 06:24 pm June 20th, 2016
Trump’s California problem

Bob Dole thought he could he could win California with a “fishhook” strategy. George W Bush came armed with $15m. John McCain was bullish, too. They all lost.

Donald Trump’s prediction that he can capture the biggest prize in the November presidential election, the state’s 55 electoral votes, rubs up against a dismal history for Republicans over a generation. The names on the ballot have changed, but the outcome has been the same - double-digit wins for Democrats since 1992.

Here’s Trump’s challenge: unite Republicans while finding millions of new supporters in a state where Democrats hold every state-wide office and both chambers of the legislature. They also have a 3.1m edge in voters, a number equal to the population of Iowa.

In 1996, Dole was brimming with confidence about his chances against then-President Bill Clinton. Dole’s campaign aimed to drive up vote margins in Republican-friendly communities down the state’s interior spine, then up through coastal counties in the south, roughly in the shape of a fishhook. Money and staff poured in. Dole’s running mate, Jack Kemp, had special credentials: He grew up in Los Angeles.

It wasn’t even close. Clinton ran up a 51%-to-38% win.

The home turf of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, California was once Republican in presidential elections. But pronounced demographic shifts, particularly a boom in the Hispanic population, have transformed the state.

The number of Hispanics, blacks and Asian-Americans combined has outnumbered whites in California since 1998, and Latinos alone now outnumber the white population. Most of the new voters are Democrats or independents who tend to vote like them.

Trump is looking to expand his support at a time when he already faces challenges with Hispanics and women. That stems in part from his promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico and his verbal attacks on US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing a lawsuit against Trump University. Trump also has criticised New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who heads the Republican Governors Association.

Part of Trump’s challenge is simple arithmetic.

In California’s June 7 primary, the billionaire businessman ran essentially unopposed, pulling in about 1.5m votes, or about 75% of the total. Ted Cruz and John Kasich were still on the ballot, though they earlier dropped out of the race.

Analysts predict 14m people are likely to vote in November.

To win, Trump would need a heroic turnout from the state’s 4.9m Republicans, while finding 2m or more swing voters to get near a majority. Indeed, some of those swing voters could be lurking in counties where Republican candidates have outperformed the party’s registration numbers.

But there are more than 8m Democrats, and the state’s 4.2m independents - about 1 in 4 voters - tilt Democratic.

Aside from her registration advantage, Clinton also has a formidable get-out-the-vote operation. The campaign made 2m phone calls in the final days before the state primary. Trump has no comparable organisation. An energised Hispanic turnout is likely, favouring Clinton, who also carried the state in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

Republicans remain healthy in pockets of California, including parts of the vast farm belt and the so-called Inland Empire running east and north of Los Angeles. But party registration overall has withered to 27% of the state total, compared with 45% for Democrats.

Independents now outnumber Republicans in nearly two dozen of the state’s 53 congressional districts.

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