Keith Boag: Why Romney and Obama are courting California

U.S. election roadtrip: A look at how cash and culture make California one of the most influential states in the union.
Money is the mother’s milk of American politics, but Los Angeles has something else that can have great influence: Hollywood. (Reuters)

This week I’m on the road from Los Angeles to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. I’m driving and it’s a one-way trip that will ultimately end in Washington, D.C., where I’ll be rejoining the CBC News bureau I left just before the beginning of the 21st century. 

Along the way I’ll be filing election-related stories both here and for The World at Six on CBC radio. This is the first of those, a look over my shoulder as I leave California after having had the great good fortune to live there for three years.

California politics is always remarkable and exciting — whether it’s a ballot initiative such as Prop 13 in the 1970s, which was a watershed moment in tax revolt history, or Prop 8 four years ago that took away from same sex couples a right to marry that had been recognized by the Supreme Court of California. Not to mention the Gray Davis recall and subsequent Arnold Schwarzenegger inauguration.

This year the Presidential race seems a settled question in California. Republicans and Democrats agree Barack Obama will carry California.

So why do both Mitt Romney and Obama continue to make regular trips here if one has nothing to gain and the other has nothing to lose?

I put the question to longtime Republican campaigner Arnie Steinberg. His one word answer, "Money."


California leads the nation in campaign contributions to both parties. Between Silicon Valley and Hollywood, there is a pile of money and, perhaps more important, a tradition of giving.

The next most politically generous State, Texas, is tens of millions behind California.

All year, political campaigns have touched down here to cash up. You might remember reports of a fundraiser at George Clooney’s home in Studio City in June that raised a record  $15 million for the Obama campaign. You heard about it only because it was at Clooney’s.

Lesser lights host the President regularly in LA and he just as regularly leaves town with big chunks of their money.


Money, as we know, is the mother’s milk of American politics. But Los Angeles has something else that can have great influence on politics here: Hollywood, known here as "the industry," and its cultural product.

Republicans feel shortchanged by Hollywood — and perhaps they are.

Consider this year’s menu of television shows with a leftist tilt. The Newsroom has a faux Republican TV anchor who hammers away at the Tea Party and warns Americans "they should be scared shitless" of what they’ve done to the GOP.

Political Animals is about a Secretary of State who was defeated in her run for the Democratic Presidential nomination and used to be First Lady to a famously philandering President. The show says the character is not modeled on Hilary Clinton, but that’s a denial specifically for fools.

The point is that the Hillary character is going to run for President again and, as she says "this time I’m going to win." Goody.

It’s all pretty heavy-handed stuff, as was The West Wing in its day. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Cash and culture, even the corny stuff, are what make California arguably the most influential state in the union.