California Gov. Pete Wilson's departure from the 1996 presidential race leaves the nation's biggest and most politically important state up for grabs.

Of the remaining nine Republican hopefuls vying for the party's nomination, several are trying to capitalize on his exit with an eye on California's prized 54 electoral votes.

Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander wants to distinguish himself from the pack by touting his role now as the only candidate with executive experience outside of Washington. Commentator Pat Buchanan also hopes to pick up a few votes from those who agreed with Wilson's tough stance on illegal immigration and affirmative action.

But Wilson's stunning lack of success as a moderate Republican, say political observers, may also be an indicator of the difficulties Colin Powell might face if he decides to run as a Republican candidate.

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