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banner Friday, 7 January, 2000, 17:51 GMT
California

California's political and economic importance must not be under-estimated and it is a vital win for presidential candidates. As the largest state in the USA, it has 54 electoral votes and an economy larger than all but 10 countries in the world.

Key facts
Population: 31,878,234 (ranked 1 among states)
Governor: Gray Davis (D)
Electoral College Votes: 54
Bill Clinton secured strong support in California in 1992 and 1996 by knowing how to woo the voters. This time the Democratic Nation Convention will be held in Los Angeles. But in the 1970s and 1980s, California was a Republican stronghold with voters keen to support fellow Californians Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

California has been a place of opportunity and economic vitality since the Gold Rush and the birth of Hollywood. Despite no natural resources and no natural harbour, Los Angeles has the nation's largest port and is its largest manufacturer.

1998 Congress
House of Representatives: 28 Democrats, 24 Republicans
Senate: 2 Democrats
Computer technology is thriving, fuelled by a concentration of venture capital and a large immigrant workforce. California has the most urbanised population in the nation, with 93% classified as living in urban areas - 78% of all Californians live in LA, San Francisco and San Diego metropolitan areas.

But California also has social problems. Although it has the most sophisticated technology in the world, it has some of the worst elementary and secondary schools in the country.

Latinos and Asians have the worst deal in education and other opportunities, and polarisation between different ethnic groups is increasing. Black people are increasingly under attack for having their own universities, corporate sector and neighbourhoods.

Voting record
1996: Clinton 51%, Dole 38%
1992: Clinton 46%, Bush 33%
1988: Bush 51%, Dukakis 48%
With such a diversity of cultures it is difficult to pin what California really wants. On one hand it wants medical marijuana and alternative lifestyles, on the other it wants strict immigration laws, tough criminal sentences and the abolition of racial preferences and quotas.

Californians seem to be looking for a consensus, a mood captured by the election of Gray Davis as Governor in 1998. Davis is a New Democrat with moderate, conciliatory politics who talks tough on crime but who also remedies failing schools.

If the Republicans cannot win California in 2000, as they did in every election but one from 1960 to 1988, then winning the presidency will be a struggle. The Democrats too need to hold California so they can concentrate their efforts on more marginal states.

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Links to more States stories are at the foot of the page.


Links to more States stories