Last-Minute Campaigning Hits California

Candidates are looking past Tuesday's primary to the general election in November

CALIFORNIA'S end-of-the-line presidential primary means virtually nothing in the final days of the 1992 primary season, but you wouldn't know it from the peripatetic schedules.

Zoom right. There is George Bush giving out pats-on-the-back at a disaster-relief center in the rubble of South-Central Los Angeles, consoling Korean-Americans in another part of the city, and fielding questions shirt-sleeved in Fresno.

Zoom center. There is Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton at a rally in Orange County ... no, at a forum in San Francisco ... no, in Oakland - just about everywhere during five final days in the Golden State.

Zoom left. There is insurgent Jerry Brown being insurgent again, donning the latest union jacket and telling any microphone that is turned on - which is more than usual now that he's back in his home state - that, yes, Ross Perot could win the presidency; and, no, Bill Clinton can't.

It almost feels like a campaign again, even though Mr. Bush has already clinched the Republican nomination and Democrat Clinton is poised to do so in balloting Tuesday in six states.

The reason for the frenzy is the November general election, in which California, with its jumbo collection of 47 electoral votes, will play a major role in deciding who will be president.

President Bush can't afford to let pesky Patrick Buchanan, who is still out there somewhere, make too strong a showing among California's disaffected conservatives. Bill Clinton has to worry about being embarrassed by Jerry Brown, even though the former California governor is on his home turf. Neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Clinton has a particularly strong base here.

As much as anything, though, the two candidates are trying to find a way to emerge from the shadow of Mr. Perot, the likely independent challenger who isn't there but always is. The Texas billionaire continues to show Schwarzenegger strength in California, and although primary write-in ballots won't be counted, he threatens to capture the headlines by doing well in exit polls.

California has an abundance of the type of people who have been lining up behind the feisty Texan: independent, affluent, well-educated, entrepreneurial voters, as well as what analysts call Yappies - young angry professionals. "The Perot phenomenon seems to be stronger in California than anywhere else in the country," says William Schneider, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "Bush and Clinton are weak and that's why he is so strong."

The most interesting direct duel is Clinton-Brown. Can the former California governor muster one last hurrah? Some recent polls have shown them close. Mr. Brown has never lost a primary here, and California's penchant for pinpricking the front-runner, in this case Clinton, is well established.

This may explain why the Arkansas governor is concentrating all his final-days appearances in the Golden State and is spending large sums on TV spots. In Jerry Brown, Clinton faces a candidate who always has a built-in base of zealous supporters here, which will be important if turnout is low.

Mr. Brown, though, has little campaign organization left. With Clinton on the verge of nomination, moreover, there is little incentive for voters to pull the lever for Brown, except as pure protest, and Perot might siphon off some of those people.

"Jerry Brown is basically a noncandidate in his home state," says H. Eric Shockman, a political scientist at the University of Southern California. "Buchanan and Brown have now been preempted by Perot."

"I think Clinton wins," says John Whitehurst, a San Francisco-based Democratic strategist. "It is a so-what primary."

Most analysts expect Mr. Buchanan, the conservative columnist, to tally less than 20 percent of the vote here, even though the right wing of the Republican Party remains upset with Bush and his chief California point man, Gov. Pete Wilson. A low turnout, though, could help the conservative Buchanan.

Allan Hoffenblum, a GOP consultant based here, has been polling Republicans in key suburbs in southern Los Angeles County. He finds Buchanan consistently garnering about 17 percent of the vote. When Bush is matched against Perot, though, the numbers are far more ominous for the president: 48 percent Bush, 34 percent Perot. "The incumbent Republican president can't even get half the Republicans to commit to him," he says.

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