California's primary race gets dramatic in Hollywood

1st February 2008, Comments 0 comments

California was in the grips of election drama Thursday as a series of heated political battles erupted on the eve of the state's most important primary race in 35 years.

1 February 2008

LOS ANGELES - California was in the grips of election drama Thursday as a series of heated political battles erupted on the eve of the state's most important primary race in 35 years.

"I haven't seen it like this since 1972 and the Humphrey-McGovern race," said Jack Pitney, a professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna college. "This race really matters."

Reflecting that interest, political news edged out the looming Superbowl and the hospitalisation of singer Britney Spears as well as dominating the day in casual conversations and in the daily news cycle.

The main drama took place in Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, the home of the Oscars, where Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton squared off in their first one-on-one debate of the campaign following the withdrawal of John Edwards on Wednesday.

In a hall packed with supporters there was also a smattering of Hollywood stars like Diane Keaton, Jason Alexander, Pierce Brosnan, Rob Reiner and Stevie Wonder. They were with thousands more watching on giant screens outside, as the two kept their exchanges cordial and stressed their differences with the Republicans.

The debate was predicted to be one of the most watched primary debates on record. Part of the reason for the rare interest lays in the fact that California the state brought up the date of its primary elections to have a more influential say in the protracted electoral process. California traditionally has held its primary in June, after both parties had already selected their nominees.

But it's also the result of the races in both the Democratic and Republican Party reaching their first decisive point with the winners of next week's voted poised to emerge in a dominant position to become their party's candidate for president.

There are 173 Republican delegates up for grabs in California on Super Tuesday, and 441 for the Democrats out of a national total of 2,084. For the Democrats the battle is especially fierce because the winner of the popular vote takes all the state's delegates, while the Republican delegates are allocated per district.

"Whoever wins California is going to be perceived as the winner of Super Tuesday and the front-runner for the nomination," says Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist based in California who is supporting Hillary Clinton. "On the Republicans' side, it probably has not been this important since 1964, when Barry Goldwater defeated Nelson Rockefeller here."

On the Democratic side Clinton had a 10-point lead coming in to the final days, largely due to her strong support among the Latino community which comprises up to a quarter of the party vote. Obama appears to be closing the gap however, largely by energising independent voters and younger Americans who are not traditional participants in the primary process.

In other primaries turnout among first-timers, independents and young voters has been unprecedented - from South Carolina to Nevada. And the chief beneficiary of this surge in interest has been Obama.

For Republican John McCain the election will test whether he can reach the party conservatives who dominate the nomination process in California and across the country.

In the latest Los Angeles Times/CNN/Politico poll, McCain led the Republican field with 39 percent of the vote, followed by Mitt Romney with 26 percent. McCain is expected to increase that lead following a widely covered announcement which saw California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger endorse him Thursday.

Even if he wins the Republican candidacy he is unlikely to carry California in the general election however. "California has always leaned Democratic," said Pitney. "Of all the Republicans McCain probably has the best chance, though I wouldn't count on it."

[Copyright dpa 2008]

Subject: US elections, primaries, Super Tuesday

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