Dole stakes costly claim to California

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The Independent Online
In a fund-raising dinner at a Beverly Hills hotel that raised half a million dollars for her husband's campaign, Elizabeth Dole warned listeners that she and her husband would be constant visitors between now and 5 November.

"Let me assure you that we are going to spend a lot of time with you in California. You are probably going to get sick of the Doles before this is over," Mrs Dole said. Her audience had paid $1,000 a head to hear those words - on the day two weeks ago when her husband resigned from the Senate to devote himself full time to the presidential race.

Today, Senator Bob Dole embarks on a campaign swing through California. The three-city tour provides the strongest evidence yet of a decision by the Dole camp to challenge Bill Clinton on his home territory.

The Republican Party is reportedly planning to shower California with $3.5m (pounds 2.3m) in television advertising in the coming weeks. "The central point of this trip is to come in here and stake a claim," said Ken Khachigian, a Republican strategist.

Pressure from local Republicans struggling to keep their tenuous hold on the California legislature, and from party leaders in Congress worried about a string of marginal seats, may have played a role in the decision to test Mr Clinton's strength in a state where he holds a seemingly invincible lead.

But forcing Democrats to concentrate money and effort defending California could also put the Clinton campaign off-balance in the main battlegrounds in the mid-West. George Bush's decision to write off the state in 1992 - where he, too, lagged well behind - is now regarded as a mistake that may have cost him the White House.

"They finally figured out that to cede California this early means that Bill Clinton can take the millions of dollars and valuable time and energy and resources and target them to other states that are much more competitive," said California analyst Sherry Jeffe.

"It will cost them a little money, but to give California to Clinton was pretty much tantamount to allowing him the electoral coalition he needs to win."

In California, with a hefty 54 electoral college votes, President Clinton leads in the most recent polls by as much as 20 points.

He has assiduously cultivated its voters since his election, making a record number of trips to the state. Even in Orange County, famous as a conservative bastion, he is doing well. Mr Clinton has visited the McDonnell Douglas plant to announce a new contract for the company's giant C-17 military cargo jets, and made soothing noises over the high price of petrol for California's car-loving communities. Women's issues, particularly abortion, are also regarded as key.

Mrs Dole, a former Secretary of Transportation and president of the Red Cross, has been elevated by the Dole campaign as the model of a working women. But her conservative stand on abortion - she is described as a born-again Christian -could tell against her.

Mr Dole is scheduled to appear in Los Angeles, San Diego, and the state capital, Sacramento. Republican advertisements are set to attack Mr Clinton's integrity and raise the sexual harassment suit brought against him.

At a cost of nearly half a million dollars a week, paid for by the national party, it seems that they will seek to "define" Mr Clinton rather than Mr Dole.