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Dems Try to Blunt Sanders Efforts in CA02/21 06:10

   SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California is the largest prize in the 
calculations of any Democratic presidential candidate, but it rarely seems that 
way.

   But no one is underselling California this time. Bernie Sanders has been 
working the state for months, organizing intensively among Latinos and young 
voters, producing campaign materials in seven languages, going, as one aide 
said, "where most candidates don't go." Mike Bloomberg has tried to counter 
Sanders with saturation advertising, including buying time at television 
stations in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon that also reach California. Pete 
Buttigieg held three public events in the past week to capitalize on his early 
state momentum. Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren remain competitive.

   The attention reflects a growing concern among Sanders' rivals that if he 
performs well enough in the state, with its 415 delegates at stake on Super 
Tuesday, March 3, that he could build a delegate lead that is difficult to 
catch. 

   "California's one of those unique places because these presidential 
elections don't play out here very often," said Ace Smith, one of the state's 
best known political strategists. "There's just a real thirst." 

   Competing in the state isn't simple; it is home to some of the nation's most 
expensive media markets, there are roughly 20 million voters, and delegates are 
awarded both on the statewide level and in each of the 53 congressional 
districts. A candidate must hit 15% statewide to get a share of 144 delegates. 
Another 271 awarded by reaching 15% in a congressional district, with heavily 
Democratic districts offering more delegates. 

   Sanders' campaign has long counted California as important, deploying more 
than 80 staff here last year and sending Sanders regularly. He'll hold two 
rallies Friday in heavily Latino areas, on top of an event earlier this week in 
the San Francisco Bay Area, a Democratic stronghold rich with delegates.

   He's running television ads in every market. Campaign staffers were out just 
days after ballots dropped on Feb. 3, knocking on doors offering to collect 
them, a legal practice in California, and his events have booths set up to 
collect them. And he is trying to show that organizing can be more potent that 
TV ads. 

   Smith, who ran Hillary Clinton's 2016 operation in the state, said the key 
question for Sanders is how high his support can go. If it hits close to 40%, 
it will be harder for multiple other contenders to win delegates, allowing him 
to run up the score. 

   Recent polls show Sanders in front of other top candidates in the state, 
with Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg and Warren all hovering near the threshold for 
receiving delegates. 

   Rafael Nvar, Sanders' state director, said the campaign believes he will 
win delegates in every congressional district. 

   "We've prioritized where most presidential campaigns don't go," he said. 

   Bloomberg, meanwhile, is blanketing every single television market in the 
state with ads, in addition to those out-of-state markets that reach California 
viewers. He is also buying advertisements in weekly newspapers in rural areas, 
hoping to hit voters who may not be getting much communication from Democrats. 

   He last campaigned in the state on Feb. 3, the day of the Iowa caucuses, 
traveling from the state capital of Sacramento to Fresno, in the state's farm 
belt, and ending the day outside Los Angeles. Dan Kanninen, the campaign's 
states director, said Bloomberg is similarly trying to win delegates in every 
district. 

   "It's premature to put a number on what we hope to get," Kanninen said, but 
he warned Sanders could run away with delegates if non-Sanders voters don't 
consolidate behind a single alternative. "Voting for a candidate who's going to 
get 5% or 6% does have the danger of creating the scenario around that 
threshold that could get Bernie a lead that's almost insurmountable."

   Bloomberg's advertising is buoyed by roughly 300 staff members on the 
ground, by far the most of any campaign, led by strategists with deep 
California experience. The campaign will have held 1,000 organizing events in 
the state by March 3, spokesman Mike Buckley said, including niche get 
togethers like "Surfers for Mike" and "Scientists for Mike." 

   California is also home to some of the country's biggest Democratic donors. 
Bloomberg isn't taking any campaign contributions, but he's set up "leadership 
committees" of would-be donors who hold events akin to fundraisers where people 
can learn from Bloomberg allies about his campaign plans and policies. 

   Buttigieg in particularly has done well with the California donor class; 
he's regularly held fundraisers in Hollywood and has raised nearly $10 million 
from California donors, more than from any other state. His challenge is to 
translate that support to votes.

   He visited Sacramento and the farming city of Turlock last week and spent 
Thursday at a televised town hall in the Los Angeles media market. For 
candidates that can't afford to blanket the airwaves with ads, earning free 
media through campaign events is critical, said Smith, the California 
strategist. 

   Buttigieg's campaign is holding volunteer organizing events in at least 47 
congressional districts this weekend, spokesman Ben Halle said. He declined to 
say which six districts haven't yet been organized. 

   Buttigieg's campaign has sent out a memo warning of a Super Tuesday scenario 
where Sanders dominates. And he, like Bloomberg, is arguing he's the single 
best candidate to go head-to-head with Sanders. Both have urged the other to 
drop out.

   Biden, meanwhile, has only held public events twice in the state since 
November and has no television advertising, though he has a digital buy. He's 
more urgently focused on reviving his struggling campaign in Nevada and South 
Carolina, which vote next. 

   Warren similarly has spent no time in the state this year, though her 
campaign is hosting multiple events targeting Latino voters this week and has 
more than four dozen staff members. A spokesman declined to say if she plans to 
run TV ads. Amy Klobuchar has virtually no campaign infrastructure in the 
state, and her campaign just announced a seven state Super Tuesday ad buy that 
does not include California. Tom Steyer, the race's other billionaire and a 
California resident, is also up on the airwaves.

   So far, just 8% of Democratic mail voters have returned ballots, according 
to tracking by Political Data Inc. Just a fraction of the state's 5 million 
independent voters have requested the ability to vote in the Democratic 
primary, prompting the Sanders campaign to schedule a Friday press conference 
to highlight and explain the process. 

   Roughly 5% of Latino voters who vote by mail have returned ballots, and less 
than 5% of those ages 18 to 34 have, according to Political Data Inc.'s 
tracking. Both are key demographics for Sanders campaign.


(KR)

 
 
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