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The name game continues in California

November 21, 2007 |  6:27 pm

Backers of a California initiative that could significantly aid the next Republican presidential nominee said today they're still collecting signatures to qualify it for the state's ballot in June, terming as premature reports that they have wrapped up the process.

"The goal is to be completed by Dec. 1," Mike Arno, the contractor heading the signature-gathering effort, told The Times' Dan Morain.

He added that "people are still out working" and circulating petitions.

To qualify the measure, its supporters must obtain signatures from 434,000 registered California voters. They say they have obtained roughly that number of names, but inevitably many will be disqualified when state officials vet the petitions, often because the signers are not registered to vote. So to ensure they reach the required mark, the initiative supporters aim to amass about 700,000 signatures.

The measure calls for California to change the winner-take-all method for its 55 electoral votes -- by far the nation's largest cache and more than one-fifth of the total needed to win the White House. Instead, the electoral votes would be apportioned based primarily on the outcome of the presidential race in each congressional district.

Virtually every other state uses the winner-take-all approach.

No Republican presidential candidate has carried California since Ronald Reagan in 1984 (correction alert: pardon us, that would be George H.W. Bush in 1988) and, in light of the state's strong Democratic tilt, few political analysts see that changing anytime soon. But Republicans now hold 19 of the state's 53 House seats, so presumably the next GOP nominee could emerge from California with at least some electoral votes.

Morain reports that the initiative's backers filed a campaign finance statement ...

late Tuesday showing they had garnered more than $500,000 in donations to their cause in recent weeks, pushing their total to about $1.2 million.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) donated $50,000, raising his total contribution to $100,000.

The measure's main financial angel has been Paul Singer, who also is a major money man for Republican Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid. Other prominent Giuliani supporters are playing key roles in pushing the initiative, causing its opponents to file complaints with federal officials charging the Giuliani campaign with masterminding the measure.

That would be a violation of federal election law, and the Giuliani campaign has strongly and consistently denied the allegation.

With odds increasing that the initiative will qualify for the ballot, Chris Lehane, a San Francisco-based Democratic activist leading the campaign to derail it, issued the following statement today:

"The power-grabbers are pursuing a lose-lose-lose strategy: It will lose at the ballot box, where it is polling below 30%; it will be a loser for the Republican Party, as it will brand the GOP as the party of presidential hijackers; and it will be a loser for Rudy Giuliani, whose close connections to the initiative will only further define him as someone who puts the raw, crass pursuit of power before the best interests of the country."

The rhetoric hints at the intensity level -- within both parties -- that could surround the battle over the initiative, should it be placed before voters.

-- Don Frederick

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