If John McCain's campaign makes California competitive this fall, it won't be because of the landmark ruling on gay marriage its State Supreme Court handed down yesterday.
Some strategists have speculated that the ruling could spark the kind of backlash among conservatives that would help energize the Republican base. Senior McCain advisor Charlie Black told Salon the campaign thinks a ballot initiative over gay marriage might bring out social conservatives to vote -- but it might bring out just as many supporters of the ruling on the other side, making it a wash politically. (McCain has been friendlier to the notion of gay civil unions than many Republicans, so he might not be in the best position to exploit the issue anyway.)
Still, the state could be a long-shot target for the GOP ticket. Black said McCain will be visiting California on and off over the next few months to see whether he can "get traction" there. "We are going to spend some time there and invest some resources," he said. "You don't have to make a final targeting decision and spend real money until the fall." McCain aides believe Latinos, Asian Americans and independents -- especially those who backed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a close McCain ally -- could be open to voting Republican this fall.
If McCain did seriously put California in play, it would be a very bad sign for Barack Obama, the likely Democratic nominee (for strategic purposes, McCain's team has been focusing on Obama for months). The state is usually reliably blue; if McCain can get traction there, he can probably get it wherever he wants. For now, very early polling shows McCain will have a lot of work to do to make that happen.