At a glance

Electoral votes: 55  |  Solid Obama

D Schwarzenegger

U.S. Senators:
D Boxer  D Feinstein

U.S. Representatives:

California State Assembly:

California State Senate: 

Population 36,457,549
43.1% White
35.9% Hispanic/Latino
12.4% Asian
1.2% Native American
6.7% Black
Population 29,760,021
57.2% White
25.8% Hispanic/Latino
9.6% Asian
0.8% Native American
7.4% Black

Presidential election history:
  • 1972R
  • 1976R
  • 1980R
  • 1984R
  • 1988R
  • 1992D
  • 1996D
  • 2000D
  • 2004D
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Don’t expect any big upsets in California this year. Repeated redistricting strongly favors both Democratic and Republican incumbents, the state has swung solidly Democrat in the last four presidential elections, and Democrats currently enjoy an 11-percentage point edge on Republicans in voter registration, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Neither of California’s senators is up for re-election this year, and though a handful of the state’s Republican representatives have been stained by scandals, only two of California’s 53 House races are considered truly competitive.

Conservation groups and the Democratic Party are pushing hard to re-elect freshman Rep. Jerry McNerney, D, the West Point-educated wind-power engineer who beat the notoriously anti-conservation seven-term Republican Richard Pombo in District 11, east of the Bay Area, back in 2006. McNerney, a staunch advocate of renewable energy, is now up against Dean Andal, R, a former state legislator and member of the California Board of Equalization who is running on a platform of ethics reform, fiscal responsibility, and energy independence (i.e., more drilling for domestic oil and gas). Though the race is close, polls indicate that McNerney, who had raised more than twice as much money as Andal by midsummer, has a slight edge in the Republican-leaning district. About 17 percent of McNerney’s campaign kitty comes from out of state, to Andal’s 1 percent.

Centrist retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charlie Brown, D, and conservative state legislator and former gubernatorial candidate Tom McClintock, R, are vying for an open House seat in northeastern California’s 4th district, where nine-term Republican incumbent John Doolittle is stepping down due to his alleged ties to jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Democrats had hoped the scandal would give them an edge in this fall’s election -- Brown  lost the district by only three percentage points in 2006 – but McClintock is leading slightly in funds and enjoys a solid reputation that may shed any tarnish Doolittle has lent the party in the Republican-leaning district.

Meanwhile, Californians will vote on a whopping 12 ballot measures in November. Three of them seem to hint at a green revolution, direct-democracy style – until you discover that California’s most respected environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, have come out against two.

Proposition 7 -- the brainchild of father-son billionaires with no energy-industry experience -- would require California to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. But the measure leaves out smaller renewable energy producers and is full of loopholes and confusing language that conservation groups say would make it worse than useless. Proposition 10 would authorize a $5 billion bond issue to promote alternative energy and alternative fuel vehicles. About $2.9 billion would go towards rebates on new vehicle purchases, mostly for natural gas cars and trucks. The initiative is backed by $3.7 million in funding from the Clean Energy Fuels Corporation, the T. Boone-Pickens-owned distributor of vehicular natural gas. Environmental and consumer groups argue that spending so much money to subsidize natural gas – which is cleaner than gasoline but still emits plenty of greenhouse gas – would be a big mistake. The one environmental ballot initiative that has actually won enviro support is Proposition 1A, which would authorize a bond issue to build a high-speed rail network. Californians will also have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, which would divert more folks charged with drug offenses into treatment instead of jail. Though the program would cost up to $1 billion a year according to some estimates, it could actually save the cash-strapped state money over time by cutting the number of prisoners and the need for expensive new prisons. If it passes, advocates say it could be a model for drug policy reform around the country. There’s also Proposition 11, which would transfer legislative redistricting power from legislators (who have long used it to ensure their re-election) to a citizens’ commission. If it passes, the measure could help shake up California politics in the future.

Sen. Barack Obama is the clear favorite to win California’s presidential race this fall. Republican candidate Sen. John McCain likely obliterated any remote chance he had of winning the once solidly Republican state when he announced his support for lifting the moratorium on offshore oil drilling -- a hot-button issue for many Californians ever since a large oil spill slicked Santa Barbara’s beaches in 1969. As a result, conservation groups are mobilizing volunteers to stump in swingier states and tighter races elsewhere. “We’re encouraging California voters to hike the cul-de-sacs of America,” laughs Bill Arthur of the Sierra Club. “We expect a lot of them to decide Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado are very nice places to vacation in October.”

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