Inland Southern California, known mostly for its open space and immense agricultural tracts, is also the site of ever-expanding suburban settlements and well-established urban pockets with all the diversity and woes of inner-city America.
This mix, plus the impact of reapportionment and term limits, has made for some of the state's most intensely fought Assembly races in the June 2 primary, with at least six contests in doubt.
Although Republicans generally find this area to be hospitable turf, analysts say Democrats may score upsets in November, particularly if hard-line GOP nominees emerge and alienate moderate voters.
Moreover, the eventual Democratic standard-bearer in the one presumptively safe Democratic seat--representing a mostly Latino and African-American strip of San Bernardino County--remains open to question in a particularly vitriol-filled contest.
Issues in these races often seem blurred. Would-be insiders boast of their outsider status, hometown appeal and commitments to education, family, jobs and reasonable environmental safeguards.
But the divisive question of abortion has gouged a fissure in the Republican ranks, one that is likely to show at the ballot box.
The following are the competitive Assembly races in a vast area from eastern Los Angeles County to the Arizona and Nevada lines, from the Mexican border to Inyo County:
San Bernardino County: Victorville,
Barstow, Needles, eastern Kern
County, Inyo County
49% Republican, 39% Democrat
Here, in the state's largest Assembly district--35,000 square miles, a mostly unpopulated expanse larger than 12 individual states--nine Republicans are seeking to represent a GOP stronghold.
Balkanized, geographic-oriented voting seems likely and, considering the size of the field, the winner could emerge with less than a fifth of ballots cast. Three early favorites hail from the Victor Valley region, the major population cluster.
Outspending the field is Kathleen M. Honeycutt of Hesperia, a wealthy anti-abortion political neophyte who has the finances to spread her fundamentalist Christian message from Bishop to Mojave.
Competitors with modest finances include two Apple Valley council members: Dick Pearson, a retired Air Force pilot and former Apple Valley mayor, long active in the Mojave County secessionist movement, and Kathy A. Davis, an abortion-rights advocate and pet grooming entrepreneur.
The slate of Kern County-based candidates includes small town political wunderkind Kevin S. Corlett, 26-year-old mayor of Ridgecrest; Carolann Peterson, a longtime lobbyist on women's issues who has made abortion rights a centerpiece of her campaign, and Mel (Boomer) Baker, a 73-year-old retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and former educator who is working on a book about King Arthur.
Part of Pomona in Los Angeles County,
Ontario, Chino in San Bernardino
46% Republican, 45% Democrat
Three prominent politicians--Chino Mayor Fred Aguiar, Pomona Mayor Donna Smith and Ontario City Councilman Gus James Skropos, a deputy San Bernardino district attorney and former supervisor--seek the GOP prize in a district where most residents are minorities but most voters are Anglo.
Aguiar, a building executive, has raised substantial funds and pulled in endorsements, but Skropos, in a spirited campaign, dismisses him as "a wholly owned subsidiary of the development industry." Smith is a three-term mayor who positions herself as the field's anti-abortion champion of change.
San Bernardino County: portion of city
of San Bernardino, plus Rialto, Colton
58% Democrat, 34% Republican
In the region's only seat presumed to fall to the Democrats, consisting mostly of minority voters, plus a huge young population, campaigning has resembled a bloodletting.
Joe Baca, a Latino who is a community college trustee and travel agent, has twice lost grueling Assembly races--and is known for rough campaigns. He refers derisively to his principal rival, Rialto Mayor John Longville, as "the machine candidate."
Baca is "desperate and willing to do anything to get elected," says Longville, an unreconstructed "progressive" with an admitted Libertarian streak. He is a former aide to Rep. George E. Brown (D-Colton), the region's liberal stalwart.
Lois J. Carson, a black woman who sits on the community college board, appears likely to siphon off black votes.
Riverside County: city of Riverside,
46% Democrat, 44% Republican
The now classic GOP matchup:
An abortion-rights advocate and moderate, Ted Weggeland, 28, former aide to Rep. Al McCandless (R-La Quinta), faces a fervently anti-abortion conservative, R. M. (Cook) Barela, who is a Latino fundamentalist preacher, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and former school board trustee. Barela, along with Raymond E. Foster, is one of two Los Angeles police officers seeking the Republican nod here.
The victor will likely face Democrat Jane Carney, a well-known Riverside attorney who appears to have a shot in the fall.
Riverside County: Lake Elsinore,
Temecula, Corona. San Diego County:
Fallbrook, Vista and Mt. Palomar areas
54% Republican, 36% Democrat
The abortion issue has also emerged in the forefront in this bastion of GOP conservatism.
Vehemently opposed to abortion is Raymond N. Haynes, 37, an attorney and onetime Democrat who recently moved to the district after unsuccessful school board and Assembly campaigns in Moreno Valley. Haynes, who has never held elective office but is buoyed by financial backing from anti-abortion groups, declares: "God has called me to serve in the public arena."
Perhaps the best-known aspirant is Ron Parks, former Temecula mayor and current councilman, also an abortion opponent. Supporting abortion rights is Fred L. Clayton, a retired developer and pilot who lives in northern San Diego County and lacks name recognition in Riverside County, where most voters reside.
Southeastern Riverside County:
Banning, Beaumont, Palm Springs,
Indio and Blythe; Imperial County
46% Democrat, 43% Republican
Incumbent GOP Assemblywoman Tricia Rae Hunter, a moderate and abortion-rights advocate who represents Northern San Diego, opted to move to the Coachella Valley and test this expansive desert district. Her chief opponent, David S. Dhillon, an anti-abortion El Centro councilman, has accused Hunter of being "anti-family," a desert carpetbagger and a "pro-tax liberal."
Amid the barrage, Hunter became the centerpiece of a much-publicized Mother's Day reunion with her daughter, now 21, whom the teen-age Hunter put up for adoption after eschewing an abortion and giving birth as an unwed mother. Hunter, who has successfully fended off challenges from the anti-abortion camp before, expects to spend $200,000, some raised through a pair of fund-raisers hosted by Gov. Pete Wilson.
Waiting in the wings is the likely Democratic nominee, Julie Bornstein, a Palm Desert attorney.