Central Valley

Memo to candidates: Did you know Valley votes Feb. 5?

Moving California's presidential primary to early February was supposed to ensure that White House hopefuls from both major political parties paid attention to the state.

And awarding delegates based on how they performed in each of the state's 53 congressional districts -- instead of by how they fared statewide -- was touted as a way to get them out of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and into areas such as the central San Joaquin Valley.

But with only a week to go until the Feb. 5 primary, neither vision has materialized. In fact, many election watchers said, it's hard to tell that a major election will be held next week -- especially in the Fresno area.

"Out here, it doesn't seem like [a presidential primary] at all," said David Provost, a retired professor of political science at Fresno State who has followed presidential elections in the Valley since 1960.

It's been more than three months since any major candidate still in the race has visited the Valley. No campaign literature is arriving in mailboxes, and bumper stickers are rare. Even yard signs, which in past elections could be found all around Fresno, are few and far between.

Only Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has purchased airtime on local television.

This, despite the fact that 12 Republican delegates are up for grabs in the Fresno region, which covers four congressional districts. For the Democrats, 15 delegates are at stake in the region.

"It could be a matter of money, it could be a matter of priorities," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at University of Southern California. "You've got to do triage. If you've got limited resources, you've got to pick and choose carefully where you put those resources."

And resources appear to be scarce, political experts said, pointing to Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, who had to leave Florida in the last critical days of the campaign before today's primary to attend New York City fundraisers.

What Fresno is getting so far is a spirited effort by local campaign volunteers, who are holding gatherings and making phone calls to whip up support for their candidates.

For instance, both Clinton and Democratic presidential rival Barack Obama have offices in town -- Clinton's opened three weeks ago and Obama's on Sunday.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, another of the Democratic hopefuls, has two Fresno chapters of his One Corps, an online networking site.

With key primaries in Florida and South Carolina out of the way, experts said, California could see a last-ditch blitz -- though with primary elections in more than 20 other states the same day, it could just as easily be written off in favor of another state such as New Jersey or New York.

Fresno resident and former Secretary of State Bill Jones, who is supporting McCain and is serving as his state chairman, said Feb. 5 is "a national election, for all intents and purposes, with primary [election] resources" that are always less than in the November general election.

There is broad disagreement on what the coming week holds.

Bob Mulholland, campaign adviser to the California Democratic Party, is among those who are skeptical that the state will see a hard-fought campaign here in the coming week.

Mulholland said it costs $3.5 million for a week of television commercials in all the state's media markets. "Do the math," he said. "Nobody can afford it."

If television commercials are aired, they could be limited to the San Francisco or Los Angeles media markets, which reach more potential voters in more congressional districts -- meaning more return on the dollar.

But commercials in those markets are also much more expensive than in Fresno, local television executives said.

Locally, Clinton has purchased more than $65,000 in television ads on the major networks in Fresno, as well as on local Comcast spots that run on networks such as CNN, TNT and the Food Network.

Obama, a Democrat who represents Illinois in the Senate, McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have inquired, but not purchased. Local stations haven't heard a word yet from any of the other candidates.

If there is a campaign in California, Mulholland said the best the state -- and especially a secondary market like Fresno -- might hope for is a quick airport stop by a candidate looking for some free media coverage. The state, he said, is too big.

But John J. Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California, disagrees. He thinks the state has too many delegates up for grabs to be ignored.

He thinks Obama in particular would be "foolish" not to campaign hard in the state.

Though polls show Clinton leading statewide in the Democratic primary, the vote will actually be more like 53 mini- contests, because both parties award delegates based on how candidates perform in each congressional district.

It's a practice new to the state Republican Party, but the Democrats have done it for decades.

Right now, it looks like most candidates are relying on grassroots and volunteer efforts and touting endorsements in mass e-mails -- all inexpensive campaign strategies.

Obama's campaign, for instance, has more than 1,500 volunteers organizing in all 53 congressional districts. Local Clinton supporters hosted a "Generations for Hillary" event that featured families supporting the New York senator.

Volunteers for many of the candidates are calling potential voters from each party.

Said Jeffe, the USC political analyst: "Because resources are not what [candidates] would like them to be, they truly are taking it one step at a time."

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