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Alex Aichinger
Kirsten Andersen
Brent Barksdale
The Cynic
Natalie Farr

Joe Giardiello
Bret Hrbek

Ramesh Ponnuru
Dorothy Seese
Jason Soter



Bush’s $11 million gamble that failed
By Joseph M. Giardiello


In both 1992 and 1996, the Republican Party presidential candidates, seeing no clear chance of winning, ignored the state of California.  The state had simply become a cash cow for the GOP, taking millions of dollars out of the state they believed they couldn’t win and spending it in battleground states.

Both times the tactic failed to help the Republican candidate win the White House.

This year was different.  George W. Bush decided to make a run at the Golden State and its 54 electoral votes.  Initial ads focused on the Clinton/Gore education recession and later moved on to the Gore Social Security lies.  There was a dose of Spanish language ads targeted to Mexican-Americans.  Extra trips to the state were scheduled for Bush and Cheney. 

Initial polling showed Bush closing what was once a double-digit gap to single digits.  It was hoped the Bush surge would help endangered Republican congressional candidates such as Jim Rogan and Steve Kuykendall. 

The Gore campaign, it turns out, handled the challenge perfectly.  Refusing to blink in the eyes of the Bush assault, they only scheduled an extra trip for Gore to the state, to coincide with his Jay Leno appearance, and a visit by President Clinton, who remains popular in the state.  To the end they refused to commit money to the state even after local Democrats cautioned taking the state for granted was unwise.  They were also helped by the unprecedented spending by Democrats in the state for legislative and congressional candidates. 

At one point, media reports said, internal Bush polls showed the GOP candidate 2 points ahead in the state.  California Republicans were jubilant.  Finally, after years in the wilderness, the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan was back. 

A total of $11 million were spent in the state on behalf of Bush.  In the end, it was all for nothing.  Gore swept the state by 12% - almost 1.2 million votes.  House impeachment manager Jim Rogan went down to defeat.  Kuykendall and San Diego’s Brian Bilbray joined him.  Seats that were possible Republican pick-ups ended up finishing well behind.

The most obvious question now is what could the time and money spent on California have done to help Bush in Florida?  The less obvious question is how it could have helped in states like Wisconsin, which Bush lost by just over 6,000 votes, and Pennsylvania.    

© Joseph M. Giardiello, 2024


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