TOPICS > Politics

The California Primary

March 27, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

TRANSCRIPT

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: With his wins yesterday in California, Nevada, and Washington State, Bob Dole locked up the Republican Presidential nomination. Now, the battle against President Clinton begins in earnest, and California, with its 54 electoral votes, will be a crucial battlefield. We turns to Shields & Gigot now for analysis of the role California will play in the Fall campaign. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields & “Wall Street Journal” columnist Paul Gigot. They are joined tonight by Phil Trounstine of the “San Jose Mercury News.” Welcome to all of you. Phil, we know that Sen. Dole won a decisive victory. What did the results and the polls that always are taken in these kinds of events, what do they tell you about the breadth and depth of Dole’s support?

PHIL TROUNSTINE, San Jose Mercury News: (Cupertino, CA) Well, it’s really difficult to say that Bob Dole has a breadth of support at this point because the turnout in California was so low. Only about 38 1/3 percent of the registered voters turned out to vote. It was the smallest turnout in the history of the California primary. And that’s not good for Bob Dole. He got a million and a half votes. And he won a smashing victory compared to Pat Buchanan. He got 66 percent of the vote. But the exit polls showed that there’s a lot of reservation about Bob Dole. There’s a lot of feeling that he doesn’t have a lot of new ideas. There’s a lot of concern about whether he’s too old, and frankly, about a quarter of the voters said that–of Republican voters–said they plan to vote for Clinton in the Fall.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And that was mostly moderate Republicans, isn’t that right?

PHIL TROUNSTINE: That’s his big problem.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That’s a surprise, right?

PHIL TROUNSTINE: Yeah. The big problem is exactly that. Conservatives say that they’ll stay with Bob Dole, but the problem is the moderates and the liberals, about 2/3 of the California Republicans, don’t want, for example, a ban on abortion in the Republican Party platform. And that’s exactly what Pat Buchanan has been campaigning for, and, umm, the Republicans in California are saying that, that doesn’t interest them. There’s a very good chance that Clinton has some reach into the Republican Party in California.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Phil, the low voter turnout is because the, the–partly because the primary has already been–the results were known, that Bob Dole had already won, right? It wasn’t supposed to be this way, was it?

PHIL TROUNSTINE: Well, there was hope when they–when the California politicians moved to March 26th that they would be early in the process, but, of course, everyone else leapfrogged over California. I don’t think the problem is that they moved the primary up. I think the problem is that everyone else leapfrogged over California, and the candidates had to be in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and New York, the Super Tuesday states in the Midwest. There was no campaign in California till Pat Buchanan showed up last Tuesday and Bob Dole showed up on Friday, and there was no campaign money left in anybody’s coffers to put on California television. And as you know, a political rally in California is three people gathered around a television set. And there wasn’t any–there wasn’t any television here. It takes–it would take about 6 to 10 million dollars to have a really serious statewide campaign, that’s what it’s going to take in the Fall on television. I takes about 1.2 to 1.4 million dollars to get one idea across on California television the state’s so big.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark Shields, you’re out there. Did it seem kind of passionless to you?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, it did. In fact, that was the exact phrase that Merv Field, the, the veteran respected California pollster said. It was the most passionless primary he’d seen in 50 years out here. But I think we’re seeing in California, 1996, Elizabeth, further evidence of the law of unintended consequences. California, while it was last in the process for years, had some historically important primaries. In 1964, Barry Goldwater actually won the nomination here by defeating Nelson Rockefeller. In 1968, the historic Robert Kennedy/Gene McCarthy fight; in 1972, George McGovern defeated Hubert Humphrey and sewed up the Democratic nomination. But California I think was tired of being a cash cow to the rest of the nation. I mean, the candidates would come out here, have their fund-raisers, and then go back to, whether it was New Hampshire or Iowa, or wherever else, and so they did decide, as Bill said, to move it up, and South Carolina turned out to be a hell of a lot more important in 1996 than Southern California.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But between now and the election, California is just crucial, isn’t it? Is it, is it crucial for Dole to win California?

PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, I think it’s absolutely essential that Bill Clinton win California. It’s hard to see him getting to 270 electoral votes without California’s 54. I think it’s crucial for Bob Dole to make California competitive this time around, which it was not in 1992. I was out in California the week before the election in 1992, and I might as well have been in Malaysia, I mean, for all of the Presidential radio–it was like there was radio silence–there wasn’t a Presidential campaign.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And why–that was because President Bush just wrote it off, right?

PAUL GIGOT: He wrote it off, and then Bill Clinton saw that and took his resources and fought in the states where he had a real chance to win. This time around what the Dole campaign wants to do, would like to be able to do–we don’t know if they’ll be able to do that–but what they’d like to be able to do is to make it competitive right up to the end. Even if they don’t win, and it’s going to be an uphill battle, they can at least force Bill Clinton to devote an awful lot of his resources there, so then he can’t keep spending all the money in Ohio and New Jersey and Wisconsin and Michigan, and give Bob Dole a chance to prevail in the Midwest.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why is it crucial for Clinton and not for Dole to win California?

PAUL GIGOT: Well, because at least the Republicans, any Republican, Bob Dole or anybody, starts, I think most people would agree, with an electoral college base that is somewhat bigger. The one state in the country that has voted for the Democrats the last seven times, District of Columbia. There are lots of states that have voted for Republicans seven of the last seven times, and if you look at–from the Canadian border down Montana, down through the Rockies and across in sort of an L, that’s the Republican base, not every one of those states, but most of them. So you can see just the arithmetic adding up to 270 easier without California for a Republican than for Bill Clinton.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Phil Trounstine, what will Dole, Sen. Dole, have to do to firm up his support if the polls are showing that it’s weak in California? What issues will he have to address?

PHIL TROUNSTINE: Well, I think the strategy that they’ve laid out is, is sound. Whether it can work or not remains to be seen. The strategy is this: They’re going to go after niche markets in California. They’re going to try as Dole did on this last trip to speak about specific issues, to hammer Clinton on specific issues and specific markets. For example, they went to suburban Los Angeles, where the B-2 bomber is made, and talked about defense cuts. Went down to the Mexican border South of San Diego and talked about immigration, talked about farm policy in the Central Valley. The idea is to try to hammer Clinton on specific issues and places where they think it could make a difference. The California civil rights initiative that is dealing with affirmative action, they went right into the heart of Orange County, in fact, to an Asian-American community in Orange County, Little Saigon. The problem, I think, with that niche market strategy is that Dole is going to have to have some sort of an overall message as well, and that’s where Clinton is very strong. The people of California right now like Bill Clinton. About six out of ten people approve of the President.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: He’s been there 23 times since he was elected President, hasn’t he?

PHIL TROUNSTINE: He’s been there more times in his first term than Ronald Reagan had been in his first term, and, of course, Reagan was from here and lived here. That’s true. So I think Dole has, has a problem in terms of building sort of a broad sense that he is a California knowledgeable kind of a guy. This is a very diverse state. This is, this is not Kansas. This is the most diverse state in the country. It’s 30 million people, 14 million voters. It’s a huge nation state. One out of eight Americans lives in California. And Bob Dole is going to need to have–to convey to Californians a sense that he has a grasp on the future. And right now, that’s something that, that he hasn’t been able to do.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark, do you have anything to add to that?

MARK SHIELDS: I’d just say that California is indispensable to Bill Clinton. No Democrat has ever been elected to the White House without carrying Ohio, with the exception of Jack Kennedy in 1960. But Jack Kennedy carried Texas. Bill Clinton won in 1992 without carrying Texas, and I don’t think anybody expects him to carry Texas in 1996, therefore, California is absolutely indispensable. Bill Lockier, the Democratic leader of the California state senate, said Bill Clinton has been the best governor, Democratic governor, California has ever had. I mean, he’s been here 23 times, as you pointed out. I mean, he attends. California coughs, and Bill Clinton’s here with the medicine. He’s almost like, you know, a Congressman in his attention to his district. He understands the importance of it. If, I think Paul is right, if the Dole people can get him to spend time, resources, energy, and effort here, they will, they will serve their purposes.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What does Clinton have to do to win, just keep doing what he’s been doing?

MARK SHIELDS: Do I–what do I think? I think that Bill Clinton is a lot more natural fit with California than is, than is Bob Dole. I think not only Bob Dole’s age but his background, Bob Dole is not someone who easily can demonstrate physical vigor as Ronald Reagan could, and I think that it’s going to become–I think that Bob Dole has to run in 1996, at least implicitly, on the issue of character. That has to be a theme. He is not a man with a 21-point program or revolutionary set of proposals, and I think that it’s–that’s a message and a case better made outside of California.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think what Phil said is also important for Dole. He has to run. He has to find some issues with which he can associate himself, because he isn’t, as Mark suggests, a natural cultural fit, so I think that one thing they’re thinking about in the Dole campaign, and I know a lot of Republicans in California would like him to do, is to really make the California civil rights initiative, which he can’t dodge–it’s going to be on the ballot.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is the initiative on affirmative action.

PAUL GIGOT: Affirmative action, which the, the President opposes and Bob Dole endorsed when he was out there in, in fact, Little Saigon. Now you have a natural difference of opinion there, and that’s something that he might be able to actually to divide some of the electorate and get some voters who might otherwise go with the President, unlike say immigration, which Republicans have used in the past, but if you look at the positions that Bob Dole and Bill Clinton have on immigration, there’s not much difference. So you’ve got to look for issues where there are real differences.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: If Sen. Dole’s support among moderates is weak, then doesn’t that give Patrick Buchanan, I mean, doesn’t he have more potential to be a spoiler for Dole in some way? Because if he’s given a lot of attention at the convention, then that will turn off moderates even more.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, Buchanan would run as a third party candidate, sure, but if he–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: No, but even if he stays in the party but demands attention at the convention, that will further turn off moderates in California, won’t it?

PAUL GIGOT: It has the potential to. It depends on what Buchanan says. It depends upon how well Bob Dole does in speaking to the issues that appeal to Buchanan’s supporters, for example. So it- -I don’t think it’s necessarily a done deal. Remember, one of the things that’s important in California, we saw from 1992, is turnout. I mean, the Republicans are going to have–Democrats are going to be enthused. They’re going to be there to make sure that the keys to the kingdom here are not all turned over to Republicans. Republicans have to get their base just as enthusiastic.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you all.