The word "change" as used by presidential candidates wooing this economically battered state will be music to voter's ears. California is reeling from the longest, deepest downturn since World War II. That includes a two-year recession that started later than that of the nation, but fell harder - costing 500,000-to-700,000 jobs and generating budget deficits larger than the gross national product of several nations ($14 billion last year, $10.7 billion this year.).
For now, President Bush is the marked man-behind-the-curtain presiding over the national slump that California's massive economy has become more bound to than in the 1980s. Once accustomed to helping boost the nation from such doldrums, the world's seventh-largest economy is flailing too much to help itself. Post-cold-war defense layoffs and construction downturns have led a downward spiral that has most economists delaying predictions of recovery well into 1993 and beyond.
"The economy is the biggest reason George Bush is in a free fall in California," notes Sherry Jeffe, a political scientist at Claremont College. Polls show the president behind even in Republican bastions like Orange County. The state's electoral bonanza - 54 votes, 20 percent of that needed to win - went Republican in 1988 by only 3 percent.