Clinton, Sanders fight for last big prize: California

(Associated Press)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hillary Clinton is looking confidently ahead to the general election, but taking nothing for granted as California's mega-primary approaches, reaching out to Hispanic and black voters in the hope of waging a final knockout against rival Bernie Sanders.

Clinton's visit to the Golden State Thursday coincides with Cinco de Mayo, the annual celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. She plans to rally supporters in the gymnasium of a community college that serves heavily Hispanic cities on the edge of Los Angeles.

The event will carry symbolic value. The venue, East Los Angeles College, isn't far from another local school where Clinton kicked off her successful 2008 presidential primary run in California, when she delivered a setback to then-Sen. Barack Obama on his way to claiming the White House.

In that race, the former first lady notched nearly 55 percent of the vote in heavily Democratic Los Angeles County, home to 10 million people and an important battleground in any statewide campaign.

As in past primaries, Clinton is expected to do well in the June 7 primary with older Democrats, Hispanics and black voters, while Sanders could perform better with younger voters and independents, who are allowed to vote in the state's Democratic primary.

"The Sanders folks feel that they have to do better with the minority communities, especially Latinos," said Mitchell Schwartz, who ran Obama's 2008 campaign in the state and supports the Vermont senator.

For Clinton's campaign, "they don't want to go into the (national) convention having lost the biggest state in the country," Schwartz added. "They are going to pull out all the stops here to win."

Relying on many of the same advisers who laid the groundwork for her 2008 win, Clinton is looking to build on that strategy, targeting key demographics in the diverse region. Hispanics alone make up about half the population in Los Angeles County.

Clinton will begin her day Thursday meeting privately with politically influential black pastors in Los Angeles, then attend a fundraiser hosted by Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, a Mexican immigrant, before the college rally.

Until recently, the California primary had looked like the make-or-break contest for candidates on both sides of the aisle. But billionaire businessman Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee, while Sanders looks to California as his last glimmer of hope in stopping Clinton, who has thus far won 92 percent of the delegates needed to claim the nomination.

But Clinton can't be too confident going in to the country's final primary, with statewide voter surveys pointing to a tight race between the two Democrats.

An independent Field Poll released last month found Clinton with a 6-point lead over Sanders, with 12 percent of voters still undecided.

Highlighting the stakes, Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, will each be making appearances in the Los Angeles area this week. The former first lady heads to Oakland on Friday.

Clinton's appearance at the college also represents a bid to lift her appeal with younger voters, who have strongly rallied behind Sanders' insurgent campaign. The Vermont senator's rallies in California have been filled to capacity with 20- and 30-somethings; a Clinton rally last month at another college in Los Angeles was noticeably thin on student-attendees, though it was held on a Saturday.

Driving up turnout will be a key issue for both candidates; likely voters in California tend to be older, white, college-educated and homeowners, surveys show. Hispanics, by comparison, tend to vote in proportions well below their share of the population, in part because many are too young to vote, not registered or not citizens.

Michael Ceraso, Sanders' state director, said campaign volunteers will make 1 million door knocks by primary day, as part of the campaign's effort to scout up supporters and to register new voters.

The California election is actually about a month long.

Vote-by-mail ballots go out next week and could account for more than half of the total number of votes cast. That means that many voters will be making decisions weeks before June 7.

In California, 475 Democratic delegates will be divvied up in the election, some based on the outcome in each congressional district, others in proportion to the statewide tally. That will make it difficult for either candidate to win a commanding victory.

California has long been favorable terrain for the Clintons. Along with her 2008 win, Bill Clinton locked in the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination in the state, which he carried in his two presidential contests. The familiarity of the Clinton name could be an asset.

Lia Evans, 19, a student from Torrance and registered Democrat, was among the crowd at a Clinton rally at Los Angeles Southwest College last month.

While she liked what she heard from both candidates, she was more comfortable with Clinton.

As for Sanders, "I still don't know that much about him," she said.