Republicans far from 'grand prize'

America's four most populous states - California, Texas, New York and Florida - all now have Republican governors. But that does not mean that California, the biggest presidential prize of all with 55 electoral college votes, is about to swing behind George W Bush.

For one thing, the party of a governor is no guide to presidential voting in his state. New York, Maryland and Massachusetts all have Republican governors but are three of the most reliable Democratic strongholds. Conversely Virginia, Republican in every presidential election since Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide, has a Democratic governor in Mark Warner.

Second, Mr Schwarzenegger, married to a niece of the Democratic President John Kennedy, is from the opposite wing of the party to Mr Bush. The conservative President and the moderate Republican film star differ on several sensitive issues, among them Mr Schwarzenegger's support for abortion rights and for the medical use of marijuana.

In addition, the allegations of sexual harassment, likely to continue into Mr Schwarzenegger's governorship, will not sit well with the Christian conservatives who are an important part of Mr Bush's constituency. Nor will they please a White House committed to clean living and family values. Thirdly, the result is seen in Washington as above all a rejection of Gray Davis, so unpopular that Democrats turned against their sitting governor. The actor must now deal with a Democratic lieutenant governor, a Democrat-controlled state legislature in Sacramento, and a projected $8bn budget deficit .

Yesterday, Mr Bush called Mr Schwarzenegger to congratulate him, and may appear with the actor during a visit to the Golden State next week. The President was "proud of the race", and was looking forward to working with the governor-elect, said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman.

However, political analyst William Schneider warned that the Bush team would probably treat him "very cautiously", and it remains to be seen whether Republican strategists will make a serious effort in a state which Al Gore carried by a 53-42 per cent margin in the 2000 election.

That year, Mr Bush proved that the White House could be won without carrying California. Since then, he has been lavishing attention not on California but on states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, which Mr Gore only narrowly carried.

Arguably, the politician most at risk is California's Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, up for re-election in 2004. Tuesday's result suggests the liberal Ms Boxer could be vulnerable to a moderate Republican challenger - in other words, another Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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