California envious of Iowa, N.H.

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Voters here are frustrated that they aren’t seeing much of the presidential candidates, despite an early Democratic primary aimed at making the state more politically prominent.

“Voters want to see candidates come out and press the flesh, visit them where they live, work and where they eat,” said Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the state Democrats. “They really want as much attention as the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire are getting, and we’ll see if that happens.”

Mr. Salazar said the state’s Feb. 5 contest is wide open.

“Anything can happen in California,” he said. “We would like to be positioned as the state that takes our Democratic nominee over the top.”

So far, there has only been a slight uptick in campaign visits.

The Fresno City Council passed a resolution last week to invite candidates from both parties to participate in town-hall-style meetings. Council member Brian Calhoun said the hopefuls should not just be flying over central California to raise money in Hollywood or Silicon Valley.

Several candidates from each party have spoken to employees at Google’s Mountain View campus in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, garnered little press attention after an appearance in Silicon Valley earlier this month, and most of the voters who listened to his speech did not stay to greet him upon its conclusion.

Six Democratic candidates will be in Los Angeles on Aug. 9 for a Human Rights Campaign debate on homosexual rights.

Voters here trend liberal and are frustrated with Congress, saying Democratic leaders should already have forced a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. They also are fed up with talk of “political reality” preventing an end to the war.

In Southern California, the West Hollywood City Council voted earlier this month in favor of impeaching President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. And activists opened an official “impeachment center” in Los Angeles.

In the Bay Area, there is measurable support for long-shot candidate Democratic Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, an impeachment backer whose platform includes creating a Department of Peace.

When asked, most voters say the Democratic contest is largely a battle between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign rallied volunteers in Los Angeles and San Francisco yesterday, while a “Camp Obama” to train for voter-education projects was held in Burbank this weekend.

Supporters across the state hold voter-registration drives and organize “road trips” to neighboring Nevada to campaign for Mr. Obama in advance of that state’s early caucus.

There are several Bay Area events planned around the Illinois senator’s birthday this weekend, including cleaning up Lake Merritt while wearing Obama gear.

“What do you get for the man who seems to truly have it all?” the invite asks. “How about the jewel of Oakland?”

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama raised more than $8 million each in the Golden State, pulling in cash from Silicon Valley venture capitalists and Hollywood’s top stars. The former first lady has slightly more financial support in the state, but voters are split among those who think she is the most qualified candidate and others who worry she is not electable.

“This country is on a downward spiral, and I think Obama has a better chance of winning the general election,” said Chris Condit, an engineer in San Diego. “He’s much more sincere than Hillary. Plus, he’s a man.”

But Mrs. Clinton has the support of California blogger Steve Soto (www.theleftcoaster.com) for her willingness to fight.

“She and her team have already demonstrated that they will take no prisoners in dealing with the GOP, will hold the media accountable, and have the requisite toughness and yes, ruthlessness for what is ahead,” he wrote.

Feb. 5 is dubbed “Super-Duper Tuesday,” as California and New York lead a pack of states holding primaries.

It is possible a clear primary winner will not emerge in the four earliest contests — Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina — and Californians will have a unique opportunity to shape history.

California Democrats allow independent voters to participate in their primary, and early absentee voting there means Californians can cast their ballots weeks before the primary, sooner than some in the “big four” states.

California also does not hold a “winner-take-all” primary, which means any candidate getting at least 15 percent of the votes will score some allocation of convention delegates.

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