With no candidate holding a commanding edge here in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, political analysts expect to see campaigning quickly intensify on California's demographic checkerboard. The campaign spirit is in the air and the feeling here is that the June 5 primary is no longer an anticlimactic walkover for front-runner Walter F. Mondale.
The state's crucial Hispanic vote (Hispanics account for 1 in 6 of the state's registered Democrats) was the first target as Mr. Mondale, Gary Hart, and Jesse Jackson spoke to the Mexican-American Political Association in San Jose Sunday. But it was Mondale who narrowly came away with the MAPA endorsement , followed closely by Mr. Jackson. Of California's 345 delegates, 309 are at stake in the primary.
The candidates will spend a total of two weeks here between now and June 5. Their itineraries reflect the kind of diversity to which a winner in California must appeal: Hispanics in East Los Angeles; urban blacks in Oakland; farmers in the San Joaquin Valley; Jews in L.A.'s Fairfax district; Asians in San Francisco's Chinatown; and Yuppies (young urban professionals) statewide.
The last major poll taken in the state - the April 19 California Poll - showed Senator Hart leading with 42 percent, Mondale with 37 percent, and Jackson with 15 percent.
Hart campaign officials admit that his lead may have been shaved slightly after his Texas loss.
Even if Mondale were to wrap up the number of delegates he needs before the California primary, says one of his northern California supporters, ''he doesn't want to look foolish in a place like California. In the West in general there's a certain glee from knocking off the front-runner. So in the context of the West and the character of California it should be good Hart territory. He's an independent loner type who fits with the Western ethos.''
''California is always distinctive because we're a nation state, we're the most diverse, the most urban,'' says Mondale's state campaign manager Mickey Kantor. ''Demographically and geographically we're going to be fighting for every vote in California.
''(Mondale) will spend 15 days in California - that's the most time he's had to campaign in any area. That's why he did well in the South, he had time to get in and campaign.''
Mr. Kantor also predicts that Mondale will benefit from the fact that California allows no cross-over voting. He says Hart benefited in earlier primaries from Republican and Independent votes.
The Hart campaign will continue to play on Mondale's strong party ties and special interest ties. ''Californians look for independence,'' says John Emerson , Hart's state campaign chairman. ''How else do you explain Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown (emerging from this state during the same era)?''
''We're going to use Silicon Valley the way Mondale used Detroit. Gary has an understanding of California as an economy happening now, Mondale represents an economy of the past,'' says Mr. Emerson.
The question of independence can play either direction here. Mondale's promises to special interest groups goes over well with the state's large teacher population, women's groups, minority groups, and Democratic power brokers who have lined up behind Mondale. But his protectionist stand for the depressed auto industry - support of domestic content proposals and the Chrysler bailout - may have been embraced by unions in the Midwest, but not necessarily among workers here where 1 in 10 jobs is linked to international trade.
Hart has some of the newer political rising stars behind him. And the Rev. Jesse Jackson has a black assembleywoman backing him, but he hasn't mustered much mainstream political support. Important black politicians such as Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson have sided with Mondale.
With no sign that his Rainbow Coalition has picked up definite support outside the black community - except a strong, but not winning, show of support at the MAPA convention - Jackson is expected to focus his campaigns in the minority congressional districts of central Los Angeles and Oakland.