California defence cuts mar Clinton's re-election hopes

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The Independent Online
A proposal to close two military bases in California with the loss of 18,000 jobs could play havoc with President Bill Clinton's re- election strategy in the most pivotal of all US states.

A report from the Base Closure and Realignment Commission has recommended the closure of McClellan Air Force base in Sacramento, and the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. California has already has been hit hard by defence cuts and has lost 88,000 of the 150,000 jobs axed nationwide in the last seven years, according to Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat.

In an open letter last month Ms Feinstein complained about "California's fragile economy" and the impact of previous defence cuts. Despite its self-image as the cradle of anti-government enterprise culture, California grew rich partly (some say mostly) on defence spending, starting in the Second World War and continuing through the Cold War.

Senior administration officials have also expressed reservations over the independent commission's findings. Most of the interest is focused on the McClellan base, the largest in California.

On Wednesday the Pentagon proposed a compromise that would allow McClellan to stay open but turn half of the 11,000 jobs over to private enterprise. Ms Feinstein called the proposals "contrived" and "inadequate".

The issue poses a dilemma for the President since California's 54 electoral votes are essential to his chances of re-election next year. The previous three rounds of base closure recommendations - designed to reduce defence spending by $19bn (pounds 12bn) over 20 years - have been accepted in their entirety by the White House.

The President's foes are already lining up against possible changes to the list. Senator Phil Gramm said he would be "shocked if, for political reasons going into this election, Clinton rejected the list". Another Republican presidential hopeful, California's Governor, Pete Wilson, has opposed the cuts.