Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman and even Sen. Scott Brown — the Republican who shocked the political world in January by winning the Massachusetts Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy — have walked into a Magnolia Boulevard headquarters for the Republican Party of California this year.
"That just doesn't happen," said Jane Barnett, chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Republican Committee. "Not in L.A."
Barnett said Meg Whitman has visited the Southland more than 60 times. The party has opened more offices this year in Los Angeles County — 18 —- than at any time in recent memory. The number of campaign volunteers is also up.
In 2010, she said, "L.A. is in play."
Barnett is a Burbank resident who over the last 40 years has worked for Republican candidates ranging from Ronald Reagan to former Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian. In 2008, she ran unsuccessfully against then-Assemblyman Paul Krekorian.
Barnett's walls at the Ronald Reagan California Republican Center, a former architectural office, display color-coded maps breaking down the 40-plus congressional and Assembly races she is monitoring.
Downstairs, about two dozen phone-bank volunteers come in each day to drum up enthusiasm among members of the state's conservative base. The room is stocked with bags of red, white and blue jelly beans and other sweets to keep the energy high. Signs for Whitman, Fiorina and down-ticket candidates are plastered to the walls and windows.
Barnett is not predicting a Republican sweep of reliably Democratic seats, such as the 27th District in which Rep. Adam Schiff is seeking a sixth term against former sheriff's deputy John Colbert; or the 43rd Assembly District, where Burbank businessman Sunder Ramani is challenging Krekorian's successor, Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake).
But, she said, "Schiff and Gatto better run tough campaigns. A large percentage of voters are not happy. They may not know our candidates yet, but they are unhappy."
Democratic Party officials acknowledge the electricity has swung from the left in 2008 to the right in 2010. Agi Kessler, the head of the Van Nuys-based Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley, said the number of volunteers working for Democrats has subsided this year.
"2008 was a particularly exciting time," Kessler said. "A lot of people who have never done this work decided to participate. Some are coming back. Some are not."
But, she said, "I don't believe L.A. is in play. I don't believe that for a minute.
"Do I think we have to work? Yes. I believe that all of us who are Democratic activists and volunteers are taking nothing for granted."
Whatever happens Nov. 2, Barnett is camped out on Magnolia Boulevard, trying to build momentum that will roll into 2012.
"California has to be in play for the presidential election, and it never is," she said.