California doesn't loom large in the 2012 election

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By Henry Srebrnik

Commentary

Prince Edward Island has had a glorious summer this year. Yet, when friends invited me to spend two weeks in Los Angeles earlier this month, I couldn't pass it up.

Needless to say, the climate in southern California was also excellent. But what of the political climate?

California is, politically, a deep shade of "blue," so neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney will spend much time campaigning here, even though, as the largest state in the country, with a population bigger than all of Canada's, it delivers 55 electoral votes to whoever wins it in November. It's not a swing state.

Obama will carry California easily on Nov. 6. He beat John McCain by more than 24 per cent here in 2008.

One of the state's two U.S. Senate seats is being contested. Veteran Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein, first elected to the Senate in 1992, is being challenged by Elizabeth Emken.

The Republican candidate opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. She also wants the Affordable Care Act ('Obamacare') repealed, even though she helped shape parts of the act that apply to autism.

Emken thinks that her career in business, along with her background in autism advocacy - her son is autistic - makes her a strong candidate for legislator.

"My dual career creates what you want for someone in government. You don't typically see someone like me that has both backgrounds," she said. Though she says she would seek to cut down government spending, she does not want that to fall on the backs of those that need help.

"California needs to become economically competitive again, but with an eye for the truly vulnerable," she has said.

But hers is an uphill battle against a well-financed, well-known and well-liked incumbent, and she has little chance of pulling an upset. Feinstein has built statewide name identification and a multimillion dollar campaign war chest in her two decades in the U.S. Senate.

In 2006, Feinstein won 59.43 per cent of the vote against Republican Richard Mountjoy's 35.02 per cent. Two years ago, California's other Democratic senator, Barbara Boxer, beat challenger Carly Fiorina by 10 per cent.

Of California's 53 members of the House of Representatives, 34 are currently Democrats and 29 Republicans. Most Democratic districts are along the coast and in the big cities; Republicans are stronger in the interior. In the Los Angeles region, 13 of the 18 representatives are Democrats.

Something new will be shaping the outcome in the House races. In 2010, Californians approved a measure, Proposition 14, which requires that all candidates in a Congressional district run in a single primary election open to all registered voters.

Voters can choose any candidate without regard to the political party affiliations of either the candidate or the voter. The top two candidates, regardless of party, face each other in the November general election.

As a result of this "blanket primary," which took place in June, a number of California's 53 congressional districts will have same-party candidates battling each other in the Nov. 6 general election.

The economy remains the main issue in the Golden State. Unemployment stands at 10.7 per cent in California, with underemployment estimated at 21 per cent. California has eight of the top 10 worst unemployment and foreclosure areas in the country.

Three cities, unable to pay their bills, have recently declared bankruptcy; Stockton is the largest American city to ever acquire that unenviable distinction. More than a dozen other cities are facing the financial strains of rising pension costs and declining revenue, forcing them to slash staff and basic services such as police and fire protection and library hours to keep up with the payments.

Yet, despite such economic problems, only 13 congressional districts in California may be competitive this year, according to a Cook Political Report analysis, because most districts have been gerrymandered to create safe seats. So, once again, California will send a largely Democratic delegation to Congress.

Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Organizations: U.S. Senate, Democrats, House of Representatives University of Prince Edward Island

Geographic location: California, Southern California, Los Angeles Prince Edward Island Canada Golden

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