THE CALIFORNIA CLOUT SCENARIO
It is perhaps a moment that former Secretary of State Bill Jones, a candidate for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, would like to forget, but it was four years ago this month that Arizona Sen. John McCain brought his "Straight Talk Express" bus to California to give the state its first taste of presidential primary excitement in many years. Jones, caught up in the momentary momentum of McCain's campaign, took back his endorsement of George W. Bush, and threw in his lot with McCain.
Although the Bush White House may not ever agree, perhaps Jones could be excused for getting caught up in the excitement of the moment — the one and only stirring moment in California during the 2000 presidential primary. I attended that McCain rally at Sacramento State University and it was electric with a kind of political energy I've never before or since seen in California politics. Subsequently, I've witnessed a raucous and adoring crowd at one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's shopping center rallies, but the energy there was much different — more like the manufactured hype of a rock concert. The McCain event had the feel of, say, the crowd energy that builds and then climaxes at the end of a really good, really close college basketball game.
That's the kind of enthusiasm presidential primary politics can generate. As the 2004 version unfolds, there is still a scenario under which Californians may be able to witness some of this political drama.
Here's the scenario: North Carolina Sen. John Edwards wins in South Carolina tonight, and retired Gen. Wesley Clark keeps Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's juggernaut at bay by winning in Oklahoma. Thus, Kerry's momentum stays strong, but is not yet decisive. Then, next week Edwards wins in two more Southern states – Tennessee and Virginia. That would set the table for Super Tuesday on March 2. One of the big prizes is Massachusetts, where Kerry has favorite-son status. California could become the key to Edwards' survival and the only state that stands between Kerry and the nomination.
If that comes to pass, it could be just the tonic that dispirited California Democrats need to help recover from the post-recall blahs.