Bernie and Hillary Are Ending California’s Candidate Drought

Bernie Sanders may be targeting California communities hit hard by the Great Recession. Or maybe he’s just looking for cool backdrops for campaign footage. Photo: Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty Images

Maybe the Democratic presidential nominating contest is objectively “over.” But you wouldn’t know if from the intensity with which both candidates are campaigning in California, the state that awards 475 pledged delegates. Bernie Sanders’s decision to fight on to the bitter end of the primary season, and perhaps beyond it, has forced Clinton to spend a lot of time on the campaign trail to avoid the kind of wipe-out on June 7 that is the one thing that could actually give her opponent an upset victory. And California’s getting the sort of attention it is often denied by a late primary date and its recent noncompetitive status in presidential general elections. 

The Los Angeles Times’ Cathleen Decker has looked closely at Bernie Sanders’s Golden State itinerary and discerned an interesting strategy embedded in the time he is spending in exurbs east of Los Angeles, in what is known as the Inland Empire: these are places where the housing crisis and the Great Recession hit especially hard.

Residents who weathered long commutes and stretched financially to buy more affordable housing found their equity destroyed; at one point nearly 1 in 5 Inland Empire borrowers was behind on a home loan during the depths of the recession, and more were underwater on their homes.

Some of the areas still feel the pinch of job loss — both Riverside and San Bernardino counties have higher unemployment rates than the state as a whole. That would seem to make at least some residents more receptive to Sanders’ condemnation of Wall Street’s actions leading up to the recession and his plan to break up the big banks.

Campaigning among those residents reinforces the Vermont senator’s message that he is the candidate of the working class, not the elites, his campaign believes.

In addition, these exurbs are close enough to the big cities that Bernie’s appearances get plenty of earned media.

Decker notes, however, that Sanders’s determination to stay on his national message is causing some misfires in these same areas:

 In the northern San Diego County city of Vista, he mispronounced the city’s name. In Irvine, he suggested that many schoolchildren in that upscale area didn’t know anyone attending college.

In perhaps the most gaping omission, he did not refer to the December San Bernardino terrorist attacks in his speech there. Clinton, by contrast, mentioned the loss of life and continued concern in San Bernardino during her appearance in nearby Riverside.

Oops, as Rick Perry would say.

Yesterday Clinton also made an appearance off the beaten candidate-track, holding a rally in Salinas (not far from core Bernie country on the central coast of California) that appeared mostly designed to offer an endorsement for Democratic congressional candidate Jimmy Panetta. As you might have guessed, Jimmy is the son of long-time Clinton ally Leon Panetta, who represented this area in the House before joining Bill Clinton’s administration as budget director and then White House chief of staff.

It’s actually hard to know what’s normal for a presidential candidate in California. It’s not like that many have shown up lately. As Californian Kevin Drum observes, they usually fly into and out of LA and San Francisco (and recently Silicon Valley) for fundraisers. The rest of the state? Just another part of flyover country.

Bernie and Hillary End CA’s Candidate Drought