What's the Matter with CALIFORNIA???

I wrote this for today's Beyond Chron.

Last night, Barack Obama accomplished what no insurgent presidential candidate has ever done: survive Super Tuesday.  The Illinois Senator did so by amassing a broad coalition of blacks, liberals and red-state Democrats - paying off dividends across the country except in California.  Hillary Clinton's ten-point win here exceeded expectations, and such baffling returns will keep progressives guessing for days what went wrong in the Golden State.  Clinton won in part because she got a large share of support from white women and Latinos - her traditional base - as well as from Asian-Americans.  But Obama also got slaughtered in the Central Valley and other conservative parts of the state - defying the national trend, and confining his base to San Francisco and other liberal coastal counties.  The state's electorate was also very conservative when it came to Propositions: voters approved 4 anti-labor Indian gaming compacts, sinked a measure to fund community colleges, and (while it's good news for progressives that Prop 93 failed) kept the status quo for term limits.

"This is a rout right now," said Calitics blogger David Dayen last night - when half the state's returns showed Senator Obama losing by a 15-point margin.  "These are Angelides-like numbers for Barack.  Maybe you CAN'T run a ground campaign with precinct captains in California.  Maybe it's just too big." While the gap has narrowed to 51-42% as more progressive precincts were counted overnight, the fact remains: Obama did well below expectations in California.

Obama won San Francisco 52-44, but he barely took progressive Bay Area counties like Alameda and Sonoma - and even lost San Mateo County by an 8-point margin.  Looking at the overall statewide numbers, Obama performed about as well as a weak liberal can be expected to do in California - making the harsh analogy to Arnold Schwarzenegger's hapless 2006 opponent all that more appropriate.

Predictably, the media has explained that Obama lost California due to a gender gap among white women, Clinton's 2-1 lead among Latinos, and the Asian-American vote.  While much of that is true, Obama's last-minute outreach to the Latino community - including an endorsement from La Opinion in Los Angeles - succeeded in making significant progress.

It's easy to conclude that Obama "lost" because of the Latino vote in California, but he had the very best people in that community mobilize voter turnout.  With Clinton's superior name-recognition among Latinos - along with well-known leaders Antonio Villaraigosa and Dolores Huerta stumping for the establishment - Obama's team simply faced a daunting task with very little time.  Getting to know such a large community and earning their trust can't be turned on like a faucet, and they did the best they could.  

The real shocker is how badly Obama did in the more conservative parts of California.  He got creamed in Fresno, Tulare and Kern Counties - and Clinton's advantage among Latinos certainly played a factor there.  But he did equally poorly in parts of the state that are politically conservative, but are overwhelmingly white.  He lost Tehama County by 20 points, Shasta County by nine points and the "Gold Country" counties of Calaveras, Placer, Amador and El Dorado.

Besides strong support among progressive Democrats, Obama has proven in this election to have crossover appeal among Republicans and independents.  It explains why he's done so well in conservative parts of the country, and why he would be more electable than Clinton.  I saw this first-hand while campaigning for him in northern Nevada, and it's why he racked up huge victories last night in Idaho, Kansas, and Northern Dakota.

So why did red-state voters in other parts of the country flock to Obama - while "red-county" voters in California go with Clinton?  I'm stumped - and the only theory I could give is that the Obama camp never prioritized those parts of California.  With the state's bizarre delegate-count scheme that makes a big winning margin here practically meaningless, it was probably a wise move on their part.

It should also be considered that the California electorate this time around was actually quite conservative - despite a huge voter turnout that gave Democratic leaders bragging rights.  Besides Democratic voters picking the establishment presidential candidate, the "right-wing" position in every state Proposition prevailed.

Propositions 94-97 - the four Indian gambling initiatives - all passed by healthy margins, despite organized labor's push to defeat them.  I couldn't believe how much direct mail I got from the "Yes" side - they clearly had money to burn - and it worked like a charm on an electorate more focused on the presidential race.

Proposition 92 - the community college system's attempt to remedy Governor Schwarzenegger's holy crusade against them - went down to defeat.  While the measure had its share of progressive critics, a "yes" vote was widely perceived as being pro-education.

I was glad to see Proposition 93 - the flawed term limits measure - go down to a narrow defeat, and my boss Randy Shaw had urged progressives to reject it.  But BeyondChron was a lonely voice on the Left opposing it: the state Democratic Party made its passage a priority, and the only organized opposition came from Republicans who oppose any term limits reform whatsoever.

While Clinton's victory in California baffled progressives who had hoped to see Obama's surge make it to the Golden State, bear in mind that we simply had a very conservative electorate last night.  It took us by surprise because California is such a blue state - and a high voter turnout usually bodes well for progressives.  But often the state surprises us, leaving nothing for granted when the voters go to the polls.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In his spare time and outside of work hours, Paul Hogarth volunteered at the Barack Obama campaign office in San Francisco.

Tags: Barack Obama, California, Central Valley, election results, Hillary Clinton, Latino vote, propositions, Super Tuesday (all tags)



Here is what boggles my mind.

How differently states view things.

Obama skunks Clinton in Georgia, but Clinton wins a solid victory next door in Tennesse.

Clinton wins a big win in MA, but loses a close one next door in CT.

Clintons wins in AZ and CA but does poorly in Co and loses in NM.

by dpANDREWS 2008-02-06 07:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Here is what boggles my mind.

Actually, NM hasn't been called yet.

by AnnC 2008-02-06 08:30AM | 0 recs
Re: What Happened in California?

Paul, you say the answer is that Obama didn't prioritize the more conservative parts of CA, but wouldn't you also have to say that Clinton didn't prioritize the more conservative parts of the country, with Obama largely having the lone organization in some of those red caucus states?

by Todd Beeton 2008-02-06 07:19AM | 0 recs
Re: What's the Matter with CALIFORNIA???

"Last night, Barack Obama accomplished what no insurgent presidential candidate has ever done: survive Super Tuesday."

Last time I checked, this tsunami-type Super Tuesday is like any other.  So yeah, Obama did what no other candidate has ever done before-- because Super Tuesday hasn't happened before.

Check your facts, and check the hyperbole at the door.

by Sieglinde 2008-02-06 07:23AM | 0 recs
Re: What's the Matter with CALIFORNIA???

I would harldy call voting yes on the Indian Gaming Pacts a "right-wing" position.  I think most people tend to vote for anything the Indians want (even though it only benefited 4 tribes).

by chadconfetti 2008-02-06 07:25AM | 0 recs
Re: What's the Matter with CALIFORNIA???

Obama definitely got hurt by the Early voting and when the gap looks to be coming in at 10%, not 15%, Edwards pulling 4% hurt as well.  

by Piuma 2008-02-06 07:30AM | 0 recs
Re: What Happened in California?

The delegate spread wasn't that bad but the popular vote spread was disappointing.  On a positive note, Obama (1,696,517) almost beat McCain and Romney's vote total COMBINED (1,717,764).

With 96% precincts reporting, the combined field of Democrats destroyed the combined field of Republicans:

Democrats     3,982,783 (63.8%)
Republicans   2,263,910 (36.2%)

There is no way that Clinton or Obama would lose California to McCain in November.

I don't know what presence the campaign had (in volunteers, advertising) in the Valley south of Sacramento.   Or in places like the San Gabriel Valley, San Fernando Valley, Inland Empire, Orange County, San Diego County.  We know that Obama never went there for one thing.   The combination of a time challenged campaign structure, minimal advertsing and lack of voter familiarity and comfort with Obama compared to Clinton are what probably did him in.  

Compare what Obama did in Reno and northern Nevada to the eastern California Counties that you mention.  The explanation for the difference in results: six months of field work and a couple of Obama visits.

I'm not complaining, you can't be everywhere.  The State is just too damn big.  The big picture is that Obama defeated the McAuliffe front loaded calendar last night by not being beaten by it.

I feel good with the inroads that Obama has made with the Latino community.  If he can get the spread down to about 40/60, he can win Texas on March 4.

It seems to me he lost places like San Mateo County because of the Asian community gap, which is about where the Latino community gap was two weeks ago.  I don't see the campaign's Asian community outreach being a problem in the primaries anywhere except maybe Washington this Saturday.  There is no real reason for this large of a gap other than lack of familiarity - I mean the guy almost IS an Asian American.  

I'm pleased about the San Francisco result which was not a given.  I hope that Pelosi adopts the Boxer reasoning when she votes as a superdelegate.

by mboehm 2008-02-06 08:19AM | 0 recs
Re: What's the Matter with CALIFORNIA???


by rossinatl 2008-02-06 08:31AM | 0 recs
The sexism and mysogyny is real

Your comment is adolescent and offensive.

by Sonya 2008-02-06 09:05AM | 0 recs
should be "misogyny" n/t

by Sonya 2008-02-06 09:10AM | 0 recs
What's the Matter with the rest of the country?

There's nothing wrong with California, unless you think there's a problem with diversity. That's why California's vote doesn't look like what you've seen elsewhere. Don't try overanalyze it, it's the demographics, pure and simple.

The votes for the Indian gaming propositions were not "right wing" or anti-union. I saw a ton of commercials and received a ton of literature, and I never heard a word about unions. Half of the "no" funds came from the 2 tribes in the state that already have compacts and are trying to keep other tribes from getting them (and cutting into their business). Besides, we already authorized the governor to sign these compacts with the tribes, the only reason we had to vote specifically to ratify them is because the owner of a racetrack won a lawsuit that forced them onto the ballot (again).

The reality is, most of Obama's wins were in counties that have a lot of hippies, activists, survivalists, and other anti-establishment types. There's nothing wrong with these areas (I live in one), but they are so atypical of the rest of the country that it's very dangerous to start believing that these types of wins can translate to any other region (except maybe Oregon).

And another thing. Celebrity endorsements from outsiders don't impress us here. We have our own celebrities and we run into them in the supermarket. We don't need any east coast ivy league types telling us how to vote. In fact, getting away from those people is why so many people moved here in the first place.

by LakersFan 2008-02-06 09:44AM | 0 recs
Re: What's the Matter with CALIFORNIA???

There's nothing wrong with California. I am a supporter of our state's community colleges, but prop 92 was fatally flawed. In a time when our budget takes longer and longer passed the deadline to get passed, there's no reasonable excuse to hamper our budgets so stringently by:

Set[ting] community college fees at $15/unit per semester; limits future fee increases.

They're currently only $20/unit. They were just cut last summer from $26. But this is a determination that needs to come from our state assembly-- not from a special interest who want to go above and beyond the budgeters.

California is just a progressive as it's ever been. I'd like to think we're also a bit more mindful of the state budget since our government is essentially broke.

by bowiegeek 2008-02-06 09:59AM | 0 recs
Re: What's the Matter with CALIFORNIA???

California has always been Clinton Country- it would be very hard for anyone to beat her here.  These celebrity endorsements mean zero here because we see celebrities all the time so Oprah just wasted her time- this isn't South Carolina.

by reasonwarrior 2008-02-06 10:54AM | 0 recs


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