Looking ahead to the general election campaign, Sen. John McCain of Arizona vowed Monday to mount a serious and determined effort to win California, the nation's largest state that has been a safely "blue," or Democratic state, in presidential elections for the last 20 years.
"I just want to compete in California and I understand the drawbacks, the cost of media, all of those aspects of it," McCain said aboard his Straight Talk Express bus after a town hall-style event in Waco, Texas. "I think as a Western senator, I understand their issues. I think environmental issues are very important in California. I think I can appeal to the Hispanic voter. I think I can appeal to the Asian voter. I think I can appeal to the independent voter, which is a larger and larger percent of registered voters. I don't think as a candidate that I want to say we're not going to compete in the largest state in America, which is right next door to my home state of Arizona."
California has 55 electoral votes, far more than any other state. It has not gone Republican in a presidential election since George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in the Golden State in 1988.
California has two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, but a Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was re-elected in 2006. Schwarzenegger has endorsed McCain.
McCain outlined his intention to run hard in California while discussing his plan to expand his electoral state strategy beyond that of George W. Bush's when he won in 2000 and 2004.
"One thing I really will insist on is to campaign everywhere," he said. "As you know, sometimes you go to those states that you, quote, have to win. I think we've got to go to as many states as possible and as many areas as possible in the country, including competing in California. I think there are states that we can put in play that were not in play before."
In addition to California, Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser to McCain who worked on Schwarzenegger's 2006 campaign, cited Washington, Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine as states that went Democratic in 2004, but may be ripe for McCain to take in 2008.
"There are states that were not on the table -- blue in 2004 -- very much in play [this year]," Schmidt said. "I don't see any of the red states that were off the table [in 2004] becoming competitive for either Sen. [Barack] Obama or Sen. [Hillary] Clinton."
McCain said he would not fully make the transition to a general election campaign until he secures the 1,191-delegate majority needed to win the GOP nomination.
By his campaign's delegate count, it expects to surpass that "magic number" in the four Republican primaries that will be held today: Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Once McCain reaches 1,191, he said he can then begin enlisting help from the national party in devising strategy and summoning resources for the general election battle.
"We all know what we need to do once we've sewn it up," he said. "It's all obvious. What are the most important issues? What are the challenges? How do we motivate our base? Where do we need to spend our time and money?"
Signaling his belief that international affairs and national security are his strength against either Obama or Clinton, McCain spoke at length at two campaign stops Monday about the Russian presidential election -- "obviously an election that wouldn't pass the smell tests in any functioning democracy," he said -- Iran, the current violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza and mounting tensions between Colombia and Venezuela.