- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2000

LOS ANGELES There won't be much more talk during this presidential primary election season about where the Confederate battle flag should or should not be flying.
Ditto for the number of health plans available to the residents of New Hampshire.
The focus will shift from the micro to the macro over the next two weeks as the four major candidates, two Republicans and two Democrats, campaign in the closest thing America has to a national primary the March 7 vote in California, New York, Ohio and eight other states.
All the major candidates plan to spend large chunks of time between now and then in California, whose size and diversity make it a kind of microcosm of America.
Democrats Bill Bradley and Al Gore have already spent most of the time since the Feb. 1 New Hampshire vote here, while Republicans John McCain and George W. Bush were stumping in South Carolina. But both Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain say they'll spend much of their remaining time in California.
"Two [Republican] candidates are going into this primary, but only one is coming out," says Dan Schnur, Mr. McCain's chief spokesman and a longtime press secretary for Pete Wilson when he was California's governor. "We believe California is going to decide the Republican nominee for president."
That's partly because the winner-take-all Republican primary here gives the victor about one-sixth of the national convention delegates needed for nomination. The pot is almost as rich for the Democrats, who use a proportional representation system by congressional district.
"Not only do the candidates have to change the sound and the rhetoric, they have to change the issues," said researcher Harry Pachon of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute in Claremont, east of Los Angeles. "The demographics of California make it become different."
Those demographics range from a large Hispanic population to dedicated environmentalists, farmers, gun enthusiasts, and single-issue voters who pay most attention to a candidate's stance on abortion.
It's also a state that demands national-style campaigning, with more emphasis on television commercials.
"California is so vast, it's really difficult to do Iowa- or New Hampshire-style campaigning where you press the flesh," said Jaime Regalado, director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University at Los Angeles.
Mr. Bradley was first on the air in California, opening with spots featuring basketball great Michael Jordan. Mr. McCain was next with non-issue ads aiming to introduce himself.
Mr. Bush went on the air Wednesday with two spots pronouncing himself a "reformer who gets results."
With a big lead in the polls over Mr. Bradley, Vice President Gore was hoping to save money and planned to open his own advertising blitz later.
Each candidate will have to spend at least $7 million here to remain credible, says Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum.
And there are local issues to be addressed. In the agricultural Central Valley, Mr. Bradley will have to answer to farmers still furious over two laws he wrote in the early 1990s that made irrigation water more expensive and less reliable by putting environmental concerns on a par with domestic and farm water usage in all federal water projects.
Along the Pacific Coast, Mr. Bradley and Mr. Gore are already disputing who supports a moratorium on offshore oil drilling more enthusiastically. In the San Francisco Bay Area they're disagreeing over whose health plan proposals are better for AIDS sufferers.
Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush still disagree over what to do with the federal budget surplus, but they also will have to get specific about inner-city education, transportation, guns and environmental issues.
And Mr. McCain is likely for the first time to face serious questions about his role in the "Keating Five" affair of the late 1980s. He admits having met with federal regulators on behalf of campaign contributor Charles Keating shortly before Mr. Keating's company defaulted on $200 million worth of junk bonds when banking authorities closed down his Lincoln Savings & Loan. Most victims of that scandal were elderly Californians.
Mr. Bush's California campaign chairman, Gerald Parsky, said the Texas governor plans to be in California Wednesday and then for "several days" prior to March 7.
By contrast, Mr. McCain will spend about 90 percent of the time between now and March 7 in California, riding his "Straight Talk Express" bus to every major city and many smaller locales.
Mr. McCain's supporters here say it would be difficult for anyone who loses California to become the Republican nominee.
"Some people say if you can't win California, you can't be president," says Joel Fox, California co-chairman for Mr. McCain and former head of the tax-fighting Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "If the party denies the nomination to the candidate who won California, I think there would be a lot of re-examining going on."

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