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The California Strategy

October 24, 1996



An air of resignation has settled over many Republican faithful in the week since the final presidential debate. The Clinton lead in the polls remains unshakable. Party activists swing between speculation about how their candidate may yet pull it off and analyses of where the campaign went wrong.

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The Dole camp itself, however, is showing a burst of energy. The candidate is jabbing at his opponent with a vigor that, his in-house critics say, should have commenced sometime back in August.

The new Dole aggressiveness has a geographically specific goal: to knock Bill Clinton out of the ring in the premier electoral state, California. As Dole spokesman Nelson Warfield said this week, "...Clinton still has a glass jaw. All we need to do is land the right punch."

Dole's "punch" lines for the Golden State include charges that the Clinton administration is beholden to overseas campaign donors and that the president is flabby on the illegal immigration issue. He has also reiterated his support for a roll-back of programs that establish racial preferences in state hiring and college admissions.

Are the punches landing? Two years ago, California Pete Wilson rode immigration concerns to a come-from-behind victory. Dole, however, faces difficulties in attempting a similar feat. First, he confronts an electorate, and local media, in California who have largely decided this presidential race is a yawner. Second, the senator will find that issues potent in California can go flat, or even hurt him, in other regions. In Florida, for instance, the notion that immigration should be curbed alienates Cuban-American voters.

Moreover, given his ringing words about Republican inclusiveness at the San Diego convention, Dole has a responsibility to show how the positions he advocates in California fit into his vision of a compassionate, unified America.

With the vote near and the polls dreary, the Republican candidate has to forge tactics that give him some possibility of winning a significant number of electoral votes. California, with 54 votes in the Electoral College, is the obvious place to test whether Clinton's support is as shallow as many of those same polls indicate.