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Bush Lead Not Decisive : Both Sides Wait Late Into Night for California Tally

Times Political Writer

The California campaigns of Vice President George Bush and Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis knew by 6:17 Tuesday night that Bush would be the next President, based on network projections.

But because both sides waged an expensive and often innovative campaign for California’s 47 electoral votes, strategists and volunteers kept their competitive edge as they waited Tuesday night for state results to straggle in.

With a quarter of the vote in, Republican Bush led Democrat Dukakis, 53% to 47%. But with millions of votes still to be counted, that was far from a decisive edge.

A glitch in an Alameda County polling place during the afternoon led Secretary of State March Fong Eu to hold up results for nearly two hours so that voters in the precinct got the proper time to vote.

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Both Sides Kept Waiting

That snarled reporting and kept the Bush and Dukakis forces on tenterhooks late into the night as they awaited results from the 58 counties.

Early in the evening, exit polling by one network contained good news for Dukakis, who had trailed Bush by 6 points going into the final days of the election.

The poll of voters as they left key precincts found Dukakis running stronger in Los Angeles County and in the San Francisco Bay area than his strategists said he had to run in order to win.

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Those two areas made up his base.

But since California often mirrors the rest of the country, the Bush camp was confident that it would win the state, because Bush won so many states elsewhere.

Early returns showed Dukakis leading in the progressive strongholds of Marin, Alameda and San Mateo counties but losing in another key area, Sacramento County.

Both sides were anxious about the nearly 2 million absentee ballots cast this time--double the number in 1984.

Democrats Stepped Up Efforts

Republicans have mastered this form of voting and were hoping it would give them an edge, although the Democrats stepped up their absentee efforts this year.

The Democrats banked on the most extensive voter turnout effort ever mounted in the state, one that used computerized lists and close monitoring in an effort to get out “occasional” voters who might not otherwise have gone to the polls.

A check of several precincts in South-Central Los Angeles and in Norwalk found the Dukakis field organizers hard at work, trying to track down voters who had not shown up at the polls by 11 a.m.

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Meanwhile, the Republicans’ own field operation was trying to get a big margin for Bush in Orange County, where Reagan won by a whopping 400,000 votes in 1984.

“If we win--and I think we will--much of the credit should go to Gov. George Deukmejian, who advised Bush to emphasize public safety, defense and low taxes in California,” said Donna Lucas, Bush’s California press secretary. “If we lose we still forced Dukakis to expend a lot of time and money out here.”

In the Dukakis camp, California manager Tony Podesta said: “I think we’re going to buck the trend in the rest of the country because we had such a strong field operation and we hit back with our own television ads in a way that was not done in some of the other states.”


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