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Candidates turn eyes to voters in California

SACRAMENTO -- Even before the Iowa caucus results came in late Thursday, the four best-funded presidential campaigns were making an aggressive push to recruit California voters, while upstarts were hoping to last long enough to compete here Feb. 5.

The campaigns of Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat Hillary Clinton, working to reach permanent absentee voters across the state, were hoping to hold on to leads in the polls in California. The goal was to create firewalls to protect their campaigns against break-through candidates, such as Iowa caucus winners former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Republican analyst Dan Schnur said Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have the most expansive California operations, while Arizona Sen. John McCain's significant base of support here has gone largely untended because of money problems. Huckabee's campaign organization has been far less visible in California, Schnur said.

"The best thing to come out of Iowa for California voters is that there will be a contested primary for the Republican nomination here."

He said the GOP candidates don't have the money, however, to ramp up campaigning in California until more primaries are decided.

Democratic consultant Bill Carrick said each of the three top Democratic candidates have different organiza- tional strengths in California.

Clinton, he said, "has the bulk of the top-of-the-tier endorsements," including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, while Obama "has the edge in raw en-ergy" and volunteers.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, meanwhile, can count on strong support from key Democratic constituencies -- organized labor and trial lawyers -- should his campaign survive the January primaries.

"Obama and Clinton have made the commitment to basic infrastructure here," he said. "Edwards hasn't made that yet."

Here's an update on the top candidates' campaigns in California:

Democrats

Hillary Clinton: The New York senator, stung by her third-place finish in Iowa, has a campaign waiting in California, with 1,700 "HillStar" volunteers working phone banks and hosting house parties.

In December, she was the first candidate to send out a statewide mailer.

Villaraigosa noted that Clinton's California operation had made more than 400,000 calls to Democratic voters since the state campaign office opened last summer.

Her financial backers include Sacramento developers Angelo and Eleni Tsakopoulos.

John Edwards: Edwards hit California often early in the campaign, stopping in Berkeley in March to call for reducing U.S. troop levels in Iraq, outlining his environmental views a few weeks later in San Francisco and his technology agenda in Silicon Valley in May. He has been seen only rarely since as his campaign sent staff to Iowa and New Hampshire.

Should he make it back to California, Edwards has a team of supporters headed by former state Senate Pro Tem John Burton and two Sacramento lawmakers, Sen. Darrell Steinberg and Assemblyman Dave Jones.

Barack Obama: Fired up by their candidate's Iowa win, volunteers at Obama's office in Sacramento were making calls Friday aimed at voters who will receive their absentee ballots Monday.

Campaign officials said Friday they have recruited 115,000 volunteers and made calls since November to more than 270,000 voters -- including 139,000 who are registered as permanent absentee voters. They'll send a mailer to absentee voters next week and make follow-up calls to remind them to send in their ballots.

But central to their strategy is a grassroots organizing effort developed by labor organizer Marshall Ganz. He has developed "Camp Obama" training sessions for activists in eight Feb. 5 states, including California.

Obama's California supporters include Steve Westly, former gubernato-rial candidate and a clean tech investor, state Senate Majority Leader Gloria Ro-mero and Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland.

Republicans

Rudy Giuliani: The former New York mayor's campaign spokesman, Jarrod Agen, who is moving from Iowa to an office in Los Angeles through Feb. 5, said Giuliani will be campaigning in the state later this month. "It is obviously our strategy to have the most delegates after Feb. 5, and no state has more delegates than California," he said.

Agen said the campaign is backing up its absentee push with "staffers on the ground in every region in the state." Giuliani has the endorsements of former Gov. Wilson and more than a dozen California mayors, including Anaheim Mayor and former state lawmaker Curt Pringle.

Mike Huckabee: Huckabee began as an asterisk in early California polls before surging to second place behind Giuliani last month. His campaign infrastructure here, how-ever, has not followed suit.

"If you're looking for precinct captains in every precinct in California, you're looking in the wrong place," said Robert Wickers, Huckabee's California-based national media consultant. "On (Feb.) 5th, we'll see where we are in California and grow this campaign. It really doesn't concern us at all."

Wickers said Huckabee's campaign has attracted a network of pastors who are working to harness the evangelical vote in California.

"It's been a combination of reaching out and people stepping up," Wickers said. "If there is any kind of organization to it, it is the result of the passion for the candidate."

John McCain: Less than a year ago, John McCain had big-time California aspirations. He tailored messages to a pro-environment California audience and talked up fighting global warming in an appearance with Gov. Schwarzenegger.

He brought in campaign money and support from Silicon Valley business leader John Chambers of Cisco Systems and from Hollywood moguls including Harry Sloan of MGM Studios and Jerry Perenchio, Univision chairman.

Then he dropped in the polls, ran out of cash and laid off staff. Now considered a contender again in the New Hampshire primary, McCain vowed to survive to campaign in California's primary and -- he hopes -- beyond.

Mitt Romney: Romney, who like Giuliani has campaign directors in every California congressional district, is hoping early money and field work in the Golden State can help stave off Huckabee's momentum.

Although Romney made a huge financial and campaign push in Iowa, his campaign said California and its reservoir of early absentee voters always were a prime part of his election strategy. He has held a number of "Ask Mitt" forums in the state.

Romney has sought to establish a beachhead in Republican-rich Orange County, claiming endorsements from Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, Senate Republican leader; Scott Baugh, Orange County Republican Party chairman; and Mike Schroeder, former state party chairman.

Fred Thompson: Darryl Ng, spokesman for the presidential campaign of the former Tennessee senator, said his candidate can't wait to reach California. Yet he concedes that Thompson's efforts in the Golden State may depend on winning election gold in earlier primary states, particularly in South Carolina.

If Thompson does well in South Caro-lina, Ng said, the campaign would hope to exploit the state's GOP winner-take-all by congressional district formula to win California votes and delegates. "Fred's consistent conservative message resonates with many of the conservative districts in California," Ng said.

Thompson's California supporters include the state GOP's most recognized conservative, state Sen. Tom McClintock.

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