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Dan Walters

Walters: Presidential Race Will Put California’s Foibles on Trial



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Joe Biden’s selection of Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate is a source of great pride for California Democrats, understandably so.

Their reactions generally project that a Vice President Harris will be the odds-on favorite to succeed Biden in either 2024 or 2028, so California will have an advocate in high places for many years to come.

Dan Walters


“California has been too often irrelevant in national politics since Ronald Reagan left in 1988,” Ace Smith, a top strategist on Harris’ ill-starred presidential campaign, told Politico.

“With a major Californian ascending in a national office, that just has ripple effects,” he said. “My prediction: More Californians in higher positions in the coming decades than you’ve seen literally since the Reagan era.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, the chief figure in the impeachment of President Donald Trump and a potential replacement for Harris in the Senate, described a “prejudice against California” in Washington and added, “I think with a vice president from California, you’re not going to see that kind of disinterest or disdain for the West.”

“We’ve always had, at least in the last half-century, tremendous legislative power,” Schiff told Politico. “But what we’ve lacked is power in the executive branch, and with Kamala, we will now have both.”

All of that may be true, but first Biden and Harris must win and California is also likely to play a major role in the hostilities leading up to the November presidential election — not in a good way.

Residents of Swing States Will Be Treated — or Subjected — to TV Spots, Direct Mail Campaigns

There is, indeed, a “prejudice against California” outside the state’s borders. Eastern media love to write and broadcast what are dubbed Krazy Kalifornia stories about the state’s sometimes peculiar social mores, and Trump has long ranted about the state and its politicians. California has responded with dozens of lawsuits challenging Trump’s policies.

If the presidential election turns out to be a close one, it will be decided, as it was four years ago, in a handful of states with relatively conservative social values, such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And with Harris on the Democratic ticket, it’s likely that the Trump campaign will raise the specter of victorious Democrats imposing California’s wacky ways on the rest of the nation.

Residents of swing states will be treated — or subjected — to television spots and direct mail campaigns showing California at its worst, and unfortunately there is plenty of raw material with which to work.

We can expect video clips of looting during racial justice demonstrations, garbage-strewn homeless camps, out-of-work Californians who can’t get unemployment insurance benefits and long lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles, to name but a few. They may see graphic depictions of traffic congestion, overcrowded housing, high rates of COVID-19 infection and, after this week, electric power blackouts caused by relying too much on unreliable solar and wind generation.

Unfair? Political Campaigns Are Not Exercises in Fairness.

In states where deer hunting is a much-cherished tradition, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, Republican mailers would focus on California’s very restrictive gun control laws. Another targeted campaign might center on California’s recent penchant for releasing thousands of felons from prisons.

Unfair? Of course. But political campaigns are not exercises in fairness. They are battles in which the combatants use every weapon at their disposal.

The Biden-Harris campaign will focus on pinning the nation’s shortcomings on Trump, and there is ample record for that approach. The Trump campaign will focus on the supposed calamities that Biden and Harris would impose on the nation, and pinning a target on very blue California would seem to be inevitable.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He has written more than 9,000 columns about the state and its politics and is the founding editor of the “California Political Almanac.” Dan has also been a frequent guest on national television news shows, commenting on California issues and policies.