50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 31. California

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

31. California

Capital: Sacramento

Nickname: The Golden State

Motto: Eureka

About the State

Before the arrival of European explorers, California was home to a diverse range of Native Americans who were from more than 70 distinct groups.  The first from the Old World to settle the region were the Spanish, who named it California after a mythical island (not realising it was a peninsula) from a 16th century novel – Las Sergas de Esplandian by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo – that was inhabited by beautiful Amazon Warriors, who used tools and weapons made of gold.  Spain divided their colony into north and south – Alta and Baja California – and maintained control of it until 1821, when the Mexican War of Independence established Mexico as a sovereign nation.  For the next twenty years, settlers moved in from the United States and, in 1846, there was a rebellion – known as the Bear Flag Revolt after the banner they flew – against rule by Mexico.  The Republic of California was proclaimed, but it lasted less than a year, before the upper part of the region was captured by US forces during the Mexican-American war.  In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo solidified the USA’s control over Alta (Upper) California, while Mexico maintained possession of the Baja Peninsula.

The following year, in 1849, gold was discovered in the California mountains, leading to a sudden influx of prospectors from all over the country, hoping to find a fortune.  Due to this sudden population increase, it was quickly eligible to join the Union and on September 9th, 1850, California became the 31st state of the USA.  Without an infrastructure to support the number of people who were moving there, prospectors would join together to set up a camp and stake their claims wherever gold was discovered.  The rush had an effect on the shipping industry, with the port of San Francisco seeing  the average number of ships that docked there rising from 25 per year to around 800 – mostly delivering cargo such as food, building materials and liquor.  However, all of the new settlers in California had a negative impact on the Native Americans who had lived there for generations, as they were exposed to diseases from Europe they had no natural immunity to.  In 1848, the indigenous population in the state was around 150,000; seven years later, it had dropped to just a third of that number.

California stayed loyal to the Union throughout the Civil War and sent gold and troops to support the cause, although the volume of both was limited due to the isolation of the state from the rest of the nation.  This changed in 1869 when the Central Pacific Railroad, which started in San Francisco and was mostly built by Chinese workers, reached Utah and connected with the Union Pacific Railroad that initiated in Ohama.  The ability to travel to California by rail encouraged more people to move west and the population increased further, as well as providing routes for products to be transported to and from the state and other parts of the country.

This migration continued into the twentieth century when the transcontinental highway system was built, the population increase was so fast that by the mid 1960s, California had grown to have more residents than any other state in the nation and, with more than 37.6 million residents, it remains top of the list today.  The needs of the growing population required some incredible feats of engineering, including the California and Los Angeles Aqueducts, a massive irrigation system to provide water to the south part of the state from the north, and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  In area, it is the third largest state and it is as diverse as it is huge – the highest and lowest peaks in the continental United States – Mount Whitney and Death Valley respectively – are both in California, a mere 100 miles from each other.  The giant Redwoods in Northern California are the tallest trees on earth and some are estimated to be around 2000 years old.

The state’s economy is also varied, from the movie industry focused around Hollywood, to the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley and the famers all over the state.  Agricultural is California’s biggest sector, generating around $32 billion a year and it provides half of all the fruit and vegetables consumed in the United States, leading the nation in the production of more than 80 commodities.  Its biggest cash crop are grapes and it makes 90% of the country’s wine.  If it was a country by itself, California’s economy would rank as the 9th largest in the world.

Residents of California have the enduring threat of earthquakes – primarily caused by the San Andreas fault that runs through the state.  Notably big quakes hit San Francisco in 1906, claiming more than 3000 lives, and in 1989, half an hour before the two Bay Area baseball teams – the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants – were due to face each other in Game 3 of the World Series.  In total, California has fifteen “Big Four” sports teams, alongside the A’s and the Giants are: the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (MLB); San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers (NFL); LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors (NBA); San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, LA Kings (NHL).  It is the only state to have hosted both the Summer (Los Angeles in 1932 & 1984) and Winter (Lake Tahoe 1960) Olympics.  One US President was born in California, Richard Nixon, while Ronald Reagan was Governor of the state between 1967 and 1975.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 55

2008 Result: Obama 61.1% McCain 37.1%

Latest Poll: Obama +19%

For six consecutive elections between 1968 and 1988, California was won by the Republican Presidential candidate, but the Democrats have carried the state in the last five ballots.  President Obama will win there in November and gain its 55 Electoral College votes, which represent more than 20% of the 270 a candidate needs to win the White House.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is 1 Senate election in California this year, with incumbent Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein expected to win a fourth full-term against the Republican candidate, Elizabeth Emken,

California has 53 seats in the House of Representatives, with the current delegation constituted of 34 Democrats and 19 Republicans.  This is a snapshot of the races that are expected to be competitive:

7th District – Rep. Dan Lungren (R) in race with Ami Bera (D) – considered a toss-up

9th District – Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) in race with Ricky Gill (R) – considered a toss-up

10th District – Rep. Jeff Denham (D) in race with Jose Hernandez (R) – Hernandez has slight lead in polls

24th District – Rep. Lois Capps (D) in race with Abel Maldonado (R) – considered a toss-up

26th District – Rep. David Dreier (R) not seeking re-election; race between Tony Strickland (R) and Julia Brownley (D) – considered a toss-up

36th District – Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) in race with Raul Ruiz (D) – Bono Mack has slight lead in polls

41st District – Rep. Jerry Lewis (R) not seeking re-election; race between John Tavaglione (R) and Mark Takano (D) – considered a toss-up

52nd District – Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) in race with Scott Peters (D) – considered a toss-up

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