On Wednesday, after days of looking, Karen Furia, 65, finally found what she was searching for: a “Hillary” bumper sticker, at a Clinton campaign rally in Salinas, Calif.
“I keep hearing Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, or seeing Bernie fliers,’’ said Ms. Furia, a retiree. “I am sort of tired of hearing him.’’
She was referring, of course, to Senator Bernie Sanders, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic opponent, who is pouring energy and resources into California’s June 7 primary.
His efforts appear to be paying off.
For months, the Clinton campaign exuded confidence about California, a diverse state in which 30 percent of the Democratic electorate is Latino, with a primary rather than a caucus, a format that tends to favor Mrs. Clinton. She defeated Barack Obama there by 8.3 percentage points in 2008 and had hoped the state could serve as the victorious bookend of a turbulent primary race.
But now, Mrs. Clinton’s lead in California has evaporated, going from seven percentage points over Mr. Sanders in March to two percentage points, within the margin of error, in a poll released Wednesday night by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.
That has created the possibility of an embarrassing defeat here for the Clinton campaign and complicated Mrs. Clinton’s plans to turn her focus to the general election against the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump.
She dedicated this week to traversing the state for campaign events and fund-raisers and will return next week. Despite earlier signals that her campaign would avoid spending on expensive advertising in California, the campaign will begin running television ads in the Los Angeles, Fresno and Sacramento markets on Friday.
“California is a state that likes to upset expectations and has a habit of being a wild card politically,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, who is supporting Mrs. Clinton.
Mrs. Clinton’s advisers said their internal polling showed her ahead in California.
But Mr. Sanders may be helped by the state’s primary rules, which allow independents to vote in the Democratic primary as long as they register to do so. A surge of over 850,000 registrations between Jan. 1 and March 31 could indicate momentum for Mr. Sanders and signal a larger independent turnout than eight years ago, when they made up 18 percent of the Democratic primary electorate.
Mrs. Clinton does not need to win California to become her party’s nominee. She is expected to reach the 2,383 delegates needed to clinch the nomination roughly three hours before the California results are tallied, when the polls close in New Jersey, a mathematical fact that Mrs. Clinton’s allies have been reciting to reporters.
But losing the most populous state, the birthplace of political movements and trends that often shape the rest of the country, would deal Mrs. Clinton a blow and send her hobbling to the Democratic National Convention in July.
At a rally in Buena Park, Calif., on Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton implored Californians to vote. “You know that this primary in California on June 7th is really important,” she told the crowd. “California is where the future starts in America.”
A defeat would also embolden Mr. Sanders and his supporters, some of who have pledged unrest at the Philadelphia convention if their issues are not taken seriously.
“Every minute she has to spend on Sanders is a moment and a dollar she can’t spend on Trump,” said Steven Maviglio, a Sacramento-based political consultant. But, he added: “It’s the Super Bowl for Bernie. It’s game over. He has nowhere else to put his money when this is done.”
To that end, Mr. Sanders has already spent 18 days in the state, speaking to crowds of thousands. And his campaign has spent $1.5 million on an ad urging Californians to choose “a new direction for the Democratic Party.”
Mr. Sanders has struggled to turn crowds into turnout in large primary states like New York and Ohio, but Mrs. Clinton’s declaration to CNN last week that she “will be the nominee of our party” has energized his voters in California, said Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the only senator publicly supporting Mr. Sanders.
“You have a lot of folks who say ‘We’re coming to the end of the season, and we want to be a part of this conversation,’” Mr. Merkley said.
Another factor helping Mr. Sanders is that nonwhite voters here tend to be younger than elsewhere in the country, and more receptive to Mr. Sanders. While Mrs. Clinton had strong support among minority voters in previous primary states, the Public Policy poll showed the two candidates splitting the nonwhite vote.
Mark Baldassare, poll director and president of the Public Policy Institute of California, called the results “counterintuitive,” but said they reflected the state’s young immigrants and Mr. Sander’s appeal with young voters.
Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, has particular strength among women over 45.
Her campaign’s state director, Buffy Wicks, a veteran organizer from the Sacramento area who worked on Mr. Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, said that blacks who favored Mr. Obama in the 2008 contest were now backing Mrs. Clinton in wide numbers, as are the state’s numerous Asian-Americans.
Even as the Clinton campaign shifts resources to general election battleground states like Ohio and Florida, it is flooding California with volunteers and surrogates, opening nine offices across the state, more than twice as many as the Sanders campaign. A 10th office is expected to open in the coming days.
The Clinton campaign has held more than 33 phone bank sessions targeting female voters, in the Central Coast, Central Valley and Inland Empire areas of the state, and has made appeals with calls in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
Ms. Wicks said she had the resources she needed, but added, “It’s expensive, so instead you have to rely on volunteers.”
In a state as big and diverse as California, those old-fashioned get-out-the-vote efforts could make more of a difference than the Sanders campaign’s TV ads and attempts at free media — including an attempt to hold a televised debate against Mr. Trump, said Senator Barbara Boxer, who is supporting Mrs. Clinton.
“To make an impact in California you have to spend $4 million a week” on advertising, Ms. Boxer, who has run four statewide races, said in an interview. “I don’t think either of them is able to do the kind of advertising it takes in California to make a difference.”
Mrs. Clinton and her husband — who has also campaigned across the state, from black churches in Los Angeles to farm stands in the Central Valley — have a deep reservoir of support in California and relationships that date to the 1992 campaign, when Bill Clinton wooed Hollywood Democrats.
Mrs. Clinton’s friends say winning the state is emotionally important for her to avoid humiliation, and to begin the battle against Mr. Trump from a position of strength.
“It’s not that she mathematically needs to win it, but I think she wants to win California,” said Steven M. Schatz, a Palo Alto lawyer and donor. “She wants to go into the convention with momentum.”
Even some Californians seemed surprised that Mrs. Clinton has found herself in this position.
“A year ago, there didn’t seem to be any rivals,” said Louis Garcia, a cabinetmaker in Orange County who plans to vote for Mrs. Clinton. “The fight wasn’t going to be till the general election. That was the expectation last year.”
(via: NY Times)