San Diego Union Tribune

March 24, 2004

State's GOP boss, Bush camp huddle


WASHINGTON President Bush and the Republican Party plan to spend "significantly more" than they did four years ago to try to win the Golden State in the November election, the California GOP chairman said yesterday.

Duf Sundheim was in Washington to present Bush campaign officials with his plan for securing the state's 55 electoral votes.

"We laid out how we thought we could really help the president in California," said Sundheim, who noted that "select states" were asked to make such presentations.

"We have a very strong governor, the issues are on our side, the registration is heading our way, the state party is much better organized. The only issue is whether that momentum is going to be enough to get us over the top in . . . November."

In the 2000 campaign, Bush gambled a lot of money on California: He spent $10.8 million on advertising in the state, while Democrat Al Gore spent $127,000. Gore won the state by nearly 1.3 million votes.

"Historically, California voters continually give more votes to the Democrats," said Bob Mulholland, the state Democratic Party spokesman who predicted that no amount of GOP spending would help Bush win the state. "When you don't have a job record to run on and you're stuck in Iraq, you're not going to win California," he said.

California remains solidly Democratic, but observers wonder whether the state might be up for grabs this year, especially given Arnold Schwarzenegger's strong win in last fall's campaign to replace Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

Although national candidates tend to descend on California to raise campaign money and then spend it in other states, Sundheim said he expects that Bush and the GOP will spend "significantly more" in California than four years ago. He said that's partly because new campaign laws require that more of the money raised in-state for Bush remain in California.

"Given the number of electoral votes that you have here, spending your money here is worthwhile," Sundheim said he told Bush campaign officials. "Here's what we've done in terms of registration. Here's what we've done in voter turnout. Here's what we're doing in past elections. I think we have a really good chance to win. That's the argument that I'm making."

Sundheim wouldn't disclose how much Bush expects to spend. The president has raised more than $12 million in California for his re-election effort.

Republican candidates, particularly Bill Jones, the former California secretary of state seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, are hoping a strong effort by Bush would give their campaigns momentum.

"In the end," Sundheim said, "the election is going to come down to how the president does."

He says state Republicans are making gains for Bush by registering thousands of voters and focusing on voters who don't have a party affiliation.