Lay of the land: California Democratic primary

The map below groups California’s 58 counties by voting patterns in the last three competitive presidential primaries on the Democratic side: 1980, when Ted Kennedy beat Jimmy Carter (45 percent to 38 percent); 1984, when Gary Hart defeated Walter Mondale (39 percent to 35 percent); and 1992, when Bill Clinton scored a late win against Jerry Brown (48 percent to 40 percent). The map’s legend shows the percentage of all votes in the 2004 Democratic primary (which John Kerry won easily) cast by each grouping of counties.

The inclusion of counties that supported Kennedy is especially interesting now that the senior senator from Massachusetts has endorsed Obama. Will he be able to transfer some of his strength in the Bay Area and in southern California (particularly among Latino voters) to Obama, or is a victory from 28 years ago just too distant to mean much next week?

Obama should do well in the orange counties (if not necessarily Orange County), since they voted for Kennedy but not for Bill Clinton; conversely, Hillary Clinton may try to mine votes in the green counties, which voted for her husband but not Kennedy. But neither grouping counts for that much. Almost two-thirds of the votes in California come from the blue and purple counties, which voted for both Kennedy and Clinton. They include all of metropolitan Los Angeles, plus the noncoastal suburbs of San Francisco. How will they break on Feb. 5?

Interesting side note: The tiniest slice of California on our map is the solitary county that voted for Carter in 1980, Mondale in 1984, and Clinton in 1992. Since those three men were the eventual Democratic nominees, California doesn’t a great track record as a bellwether for the entire primary season.