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California voters may be critical in GOP race

February 04, 2000

Greg Risling

This week's surprising results in the New Hampshire Republican primary

may put added pressure on the candidates to bag California come March.

Typically viewed as a sturdy springboard to the presidential nomination,

California has historically been important to any candidate with

executive aspirations.

But in past primaries, the hype has overshadowed the actual results, with

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many front-runners easily winning the lion's share of votes. By the time

the state's primary rolled around in June, the show was largely over.

That will change this year, when voters go to the polls in March.

With the landslide win by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) over George W.

Bush in New Hampshire, some politicos think California remains the major

battleground for the GOP's nomination.

"I think the results from New Hampshire re-energizes the race out here,"

said Tom Fuentes, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party.

Fuentes and about 200 members gathered Tuesday night to watch the primary

at a Newport Beach office building. They were getting minute-by-minute

blows directly from the Granite State, via phone. Fuentes, like many, was

surprised by McCain's victory, but said no candidate should be discounted

yet.

"When they come to California, they won't be taking anything for

granted," he added. "There has been a lot of press about the Bush

campaign, but the New Hampshire race was a shaking result."

Fuentes believes the state's Republican legislators, along with the

public, will wait until the picture becomes more clear before deciding

who they will support.

A spokesman for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) said Thursday

that the congressman hasn't endorsed any candidate to date. Rohrabacher

couldn't be reached for comment because he was attending a party retreat

in Pennsylvania.

"As far as the New Hampshire results go, he thinks they largely have to

do with George Bush not identifying with any issues, while Sen. McCain

had vaguely dealt with reform [issues]," said spokesman Ricardo Bernal.

The next primary will be Tuesday in Delaware. But many candidates have

moved their troops to South Carolina, where voters will have their chance

on Feb. 19.

The state primary will be held on "Big Tuesday," March 7, when California

joins 11 other states in hosting primaries.

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