Republican Gov. George Deukmejian departed on a three-city swing through rural Northern California on Monday in hopes of persuading Democratic voters who supported him in 1986 to remain with the GOP in the November presidential election.
Deukmejian, who had been campaigning with Vice President George Bush on and off for several weeks, this time went solo--in a twin-engine Beechcraft rather than in Bush’s Air Force Two--as part of a GOP strategy to block Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis in regions where Democrats have an edge in voter registration but where party loyalty has been weak.
Attempting to appeal to these swing voters at a brown bag lunch in Santa Rosa, Deukmejian once again raised the issue of Dukakis’ “card carrying” membership in the American Civil Liberties Union, declaring that he is “far too liberal for all the Democrats who voted for Ronald Reagan.”
The event, which was held in an outdoor parking lot, was disrupted by a man wearing a Bush-Quayle campaign button who interrupted the governor’s brief remarks with repeated questions about his decision last year to dismantle Cal/OSHA, the state’s worker safety program. At the same time, a vocal band of demonstrators tried to drown out Deukmejian’s answers by shouting barnyard epithets and “seig heil” to show their displeasure with the governor and Bush.
Exasperated, Deukmejian shot back: “If this is the kind of support that Dukakis has, then let’s hope he doesn’t get elected President.”
For the most part, though, the day held closely to the script as Deukmejian mingled with Republican volunteers and emphasized many of Bush’s broad campaign themes--patriotism, job development and fighting crime--while lambasting Dukakis for refusing to rule out a tax increase and for opposing the death penalty.
In the major metropolitan regions of the state, a candidate’s surrogate--even the governor--is unlikely to draw more than passing notice. But in the small towns of California, visits by political celebrities are rare and all but certain to make the evening news--even when the news is merely one top Republican saying nice things about another and bad things about the Democratic opposition.
Deukmejian’s three destinations--Chico, Santa Rosa and Eureka--were chosen because they are all majority Democratic in registration but were carried by Deukmejian in 1986.
For example, Butte County, which encompasses Chico, is 52% Democratic but supported Deukmejian over Democratic Mayor Tom Bradley by a margin of 71% to 27%. In Eureka, where blue collar workers and students at nearby Humboldt State University pushed the county’s Democratic registration to 57% in January, Deukmejian won 55% of the vote. Top Republican advisers to the governor and to the Bush campaign say Bush must win 44% of the vote in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area and 60% in solidly Republican Orange County and other communities of Southern California. In the Central Valley and the rural northern part of the state, where Democrats began with a considerable edge, Bush advisers say he must capture roughly 57% of the vote.
The towns that Deukmejian visited on Monday represent a small percentage of the statewide vote. But Brian Lungren, executive director of Bush’s California campaign, said that could be crucial in a tight race.
“In areas where the vice president can’t go, we can, and that can make a difference,” Lungren said.
Later, Deukmejian said he now believes that Bush can win without carrying California but that Dukakis cannot. He also predicted that the controversy surrounding Sen. Dan Quayle, Bush’s running mate, would not affect voter opinion in California.
“I don’t see it particularly helping the ticket,” Deukmejian said. “But I don’t think it hurts either. For the most part, people will focus on Dukakis and Bush.”
Monday’s trip was not just altruism on Deukmejian’s part. A Bush loss in California would be a political embarrassment for the governor at a time when he is considering running for a rare third term. Republican presidential candidates have won California in every election since 1968.
Deukmejian said he would not make a decision on his own political future until after the Nov. 8 election.