Listen To Me: Spotlight California

BY Beth Garbitelli  October 8, 2012 at 6:20 PM EDT

President Obama announces the creation of a national monument for Cesar E. Chavez in Keene, Calif. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/GettyImages.

President Obama has been heavily campaigning in California over the past two days, with events in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The president also made time on Monday to stop in the small town of Keene to establish a monument to worker’s rights champion Cesar Chavez

Yet the current economic environment in the Golden State is far less sunny than its weather. Voters in California have dealt with high unemployment, stunning foreclosure rates and, in the past week, saw gas prices shoot to almost $5 a gallon. Economic circumstances might make the state sound ripe for a political change.

Still, no one expects a November voting surprise in the solid Democratic state of California. Although conservatives are nested in the northern districts, they are electorally outweighed by the populous, urban south.

In the 2008 election, 61 percent of Californians voted for the current president. This year appears to be shaping up in a similar fashion. The website RealClearPolitics puts President Obama at an average 20-point advantage over Mitt Romney.

The state is also home to several rising stars of the Democratic Party such as state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Villaraigosa joined a panel of fellow Democratic mayors during NewsHour’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention, where he discussed some of the reasons he supports President Obama, such as assistance for foreclosures.

Although it is out of play this presidential election, California’s Democrats have deep pockets that are essential to President Obama’s fundraising efforts. The president spoke at events in California over the weekend, including a dinner in Los Angeles where he thanked one of his biggest contributors, Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation.

The Obama campaign has raised more than 90 million dollars from the state, making it the president’s best bet for raking in substantial dollars, according to The Los Angeles Times.

So how are voters feeling in the Golden State? Several people interviewed for the PBS NewsHour’s Listen to Me project had mixed feelings about the state of the race, highlighting the combination of support for Democratic policies as well as unhappiness over the economy.

“Unfortunately either side doesn’t have a really good grasp on what is really needed for this country,” Heather Homer said. “There’s not any good other candidates for a third party to really come and knock the main two out of the race.”

Homer mentioned President Obama’s message of hope and change. “We needs some new fresh perspectives and that’s what I thought that the current administration would bring and they have brought some,” Homer said. “[U]nfortunately you can’t fix it overnight.”


The Californians we spoke with agreed that the political system was broken but were hopeful about the possibility of fixing it.

“[T]he political system is broken,” Matt Taylor said. “I actually think it’s more broken in California than nationally.”

Taylor mentioned healthcare, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and immigration reform as topics on which he agreed with President Obama’s stance. “I think our president is headed in the right direction,” Taylor said.

Immigrant rights are a hot button issue in the state due to high levels of immigration from Hispanic and Asian nations.

“Our political system is broken,” Lananh Hoang said. “However, being an immigrant. I also see how fair this system can be compared to other countries across the world.”


KPBS and KQED contributed to this post.