Hillary Clinton sees a different California than her husband once did

Hillary Rodham Clinton stands on stage with her husband after her official kickoff rally this month.

Hillary Rodham Clinton stands on stage with her husband after her official kickoff rally this month.

(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

When Bill Clinton arrived in California for the state’s 1992 Democratic primary he was a considerable underdog.

He had a commanding delegate tally and was well on his way to securing the party’s presidential nomination but faced a political titan in the state: the former and future governor, Jerry Brown.

The result? He beat Brown by 7 percentage points.

Now, more than two decades after that June 1992 primary victory, his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has embarked on her second White House run.


On Friday, she arrives in Los Angeles for three Westside fundraisers, including one at the home of actor Tobey Maguire and his wife, Jennifer Meyer.

Unlike the opponents her husband faced, Clinton’s rivals are long shots at best and have no substantial ties to California. Rather than worry about a contested primary, she can focus on California’s other role in Democratic politics, the cash machine.

For both parties, California has proved a fertile place for raising money. But for Democrats, that’s especially true. During the last presidential cycle, President Obama raised almost $63 million from people who listed a California residence, as opposed to just over $41 million for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, according to a compilation by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign fundraising.

But California’s position as a Democratic stronghold wasn’t always so steadfast.

Before Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory, in which he beat incumbent President George H.W. Bush 46% to 32% in the state, California had a healthy track record of electing Republican candidates. Four years earlier, Bush defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis by 3 percentage points. Two of the last five Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, were Californians.

While Bill Clinton raised cash in the Democratic money belt of the Westside, he also spent time in Southern California actively campaigning. In the 1992 election, it was not uncommon to see the Arkansas governor travel to South Los Angeles to meet with African American voters. He even addressed Orange County Republicans on a visit in December 1991.

“There really has been this bond between California and the Clintons that is interesting,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist, who worked in the Clinton administration. “Californians have given their support and the Clintons have embraced this state.”

Lehane notes several Clinton administration officials, including Leon Panetta, who served as chief of staff, and John Emerson, who worked as deputy director of Intergovernmental Affairs, had histories in California politics. Panetta, a former member of Congress, went on to serve as secretary of Defense and head of the CIA in the Obama administration. Emerson is ambassador to Germany.

Such connections have stuck with the Clintons. “Just look at 2008,” said Lehane. “Hillary won California by a wide margin over President Obama.”

At least on this trip, however, Hillary Clinton does not have plans for retail politicking of the sort her husband displayed in 1992. After a day of fundraising, she plans to travel north to San Francisco on Saturday to address the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

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