- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2008

Call it California dreamin’.

Sen. John McCain, winding up a three-day fundraising blitz up and down the California coast, has declared he will make a serious run for one of the nation’s most liberal states, which hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate in 20 years.

“I think we can make a play for California. It seems silly to abandon such a big state,” he said last month during a barbecue at his Cornville, Ariz., home. “We’re going to campaign in a lot of states the Republicans haven’t campaigned in for a while.”

Some encouraging facts are in his corner, political analysts say. Most interesting is a new Gallup poll that shows heavy defection to the Arizona senator from disgruntled Democrats should their favored candidate fail to win the party’s nomination.

More than one in four (28 percent) of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s supporters would vote for Mr. McCain if Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois wins the nomination, according to the poll of 6,657 national Democratic voters aged 18 and older conducted March 7-22.

“When almost three out of 10 Clinton supporters say they would vote for McCain over Obama, it suggests that divisions are running deep within the Democratic Party,” said Gallup’s Frank Newport.

The number drops a bit, to 19 percent, for Obama supporters who would jump over to Mr. McCain if New York’s Mrs. Clinton is the party’s nominee — still nearly one in five.

Mr. McCain also benefits from his reputation as a political maverick in a state that has twice elected fellow maverick Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has endorsed the Arizona senator. In the February Republican primary in California, Mr. McCain drew the support of 49 percent of the independents who voted.

He won handily among those who identified themselves as liberal (57 percent) and those who called themselves moderates (54 percent), according to CNN exit polls.

In addition, Mr. McCain on Tuesday won the endorsement of Nancy Reagan, wife of the late president and popular California governor, who twice won the state in presidential elections by large margins (defeating the Democratic ticket in 1984 by 18 percentage points).

“My husband and I first came to know him as a returning Vietnam War POW, and were impressed by the courage he had shown through his terrible ordeal,” the former first lady said at her Bel Air home with Mr. McCain by her side. “I believe John’s record and experience have prepared him well to be our next president.”

Steve Finefrock, founder of the Hollywood Conservative Forum, said Mr. McCain is “the kind of ‘moderate’ that independents with a right-leaning inclination love to vote for, as in Arnold’s ‘moderate’ appeal as the ‘Governator.’ ”

But he added that “McCain’s chances are slim,” although he said his making an effort in the liberal state may “draw lefty resources to hold their own territory in the battle royale that is coming.”

Less optimistic political pundits say the state is a truly lost cause, a nut that cannot be broken by any Republican, even a maverick who draws strong support from independents and even moderate Democrats.

“I give him a 1-in-5 chance,” said John J. Pitney Jr., professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “It’s still a blue state. The Democrats will still be heavy favorites to win this state, whether the nominee is Clinton or Obama.”

Mr. Pitney noted that registered Republicans have dropped from 38.6 percent in 1988 — the last time California went to a Republican presidential candidate — to just 33.3 percent this year. He also pointed out that other big states are in play that may be more winnable for Mr. McCain, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“In 2000, [George W.] Bush put a lot of money in California and still lost in a landslide. Had that money gone to Florida instead, he would have had a clear victory in the Electoral College and might have even won the popular vote,” Mr. Pitney said.

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