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Dashing for Cash: Candidates Snub Struggling IE

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Voters crying foul as campaigns focus on mining big donor dollars

By Chris Levister

They come. They pose. They flatter. They cajole. They beg. They promise. And then they dash – to the next pot of cash. With the president ial race narrowing and just 25 days to the November election, President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney are courting donors at high-dollar fundraisers in California and across the country, and spending more time in the swing states that matter most prompting some in the Inland Empire to ask: “Does our vote count?”

“We’re bleeding while the presidential candidates bump fists and eat caviar with our wealthy neighbors north and south of here,” said Neil Sterling on Saturday responding to President Obama’s last dash for cash in the celebrity scene of California this weekend.

“Once again the I.E. is not on the president’s dance card,” said Sterling a Democrat.

Either as candidate in 2008 or as President , Obama has declined repeated invitations to visit San Bernardino or Riverside County, an area seen by many economists as a poster child for what still ails the U.S. economy following the crushing effects of the recession. In June, Romney stopped in Riverside for a fundraising event at the Victoria Club.

On Sunday Mr. Obama attended a star-studded Los Angeles fundraiser graced by the likes of actor George Clooney and performances by Katy Perry, Stevie Wonder, and Jon Bon Jovi before a night-capping dinner for 150 guests at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant at $25,000 per person.

On Monday Obama’s 12th presidential visit to San Francisco included a trio of fundraisers that began with a round table for 25 deep-pocketed donors at the InterContinental Hotel, where tickets cost $40,000 each. He then visited with 100 people who paid $20,000 each to have dinner with the president inside the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Meanwhile Romney has appeared at fundraisers in the Bay Area, San Diego and Beverly Hills during swings to the Golden State.

In late September, the former Governor of Massachusetts took a big shot at California during a private fundraiser before people who paid up to $25,000 a ticket at a luxury hotel near Del Mar north of San Diego.

The recession has left many in the Inland Empire feeling politically irrelevant and overlooked, in spite of the fact that the region is home to 4 million people, larger than many states.

“We’re not a swing state, so don’t hold your breath on the candidates showing up in the I.E. between now and November,” says two-time Democratic National Convention delegate Linnie Frank Bailey.

Bailey, an author and political commentator says expect Obama and Romney to stay focused on mining votes in battleground states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia.

“No cash, no splash, no fame, no game,” said Emma Lacabe a private equity trader and lifelong Republican.

“I think a lot of people in the region are disappointed by the candidate’s emphasis on hauling in cash from big donors while ignoring the concerns of voters in areas like the Inland Empire,” said Lacabe.

“Why wouldn’t Mitt Romney want to be seen in the national media campaigning in an area that speaks to the very reason why we can’t afford four more years of Obama?”

With three California cities in bankruptcy, San Bernardino, Stockton and Mammoth Lakes, and two other cities seeking protection it will take a long time for the Inland Empire to bounce back from the mortgage meltdown and massive job loss. The region boomed in the last decade, and then suffered the second highest home foreclosure rate in the country.

The recession cost San Bernardino County more than 100,000 foreclosures between 2008 and 2011, laid waste to 146,458 jobs in 2008-2010, left housing markets in shambles, trounced local tax revenues and in August catapulted San Bernardino to become the second largest city in recent U.S. history to file for bankruptcy. The region still struggles with 12.3 percent unemployment, higher than the state average.

Bailey says the Golden State may be a sure win for President Barack Obama, but it 's also a make-or-break battleground for Democrats' long-shot quest to retake the House of Representatives and perhaps reinstall San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.

California redistricting has made the House vote a valuable commodity.

Twelve California House districts -- mostly in Central and Southern California -- are considered competitive or potential battlegrounds.

Almost a quarter of the state's House seats are considered in play, and that's 13 percent of the races to watch nationwide. Democrats need a net gain of 25 seats to win a House majority, and it's hard to imagine getting there without California, which has earned a reputation for voting to the left of the rest of the nation.

The summer began disappointingly for Democrats when their chosen candidate for the 31st District in San Bernardino County, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, failed to make the top two in June's primary. Democrats held a 41 to 37 percent voter registration edge over Republicans, but Aguilar split the primary vote with three other Democrats, and so the district must now choose between two Republ icans, state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea.

Even with that district out of play, the parties spent a lot this summer courting votes elsewhere around the state. Their efforts presage the messages and issues that they'll keep pounding away at through November.

Bailey says despite the absence of the presidential candidates, Inland Empire voters can expect a blitz of television advertising, direct mail, door to door canvassing and phone calls as local congressional contestants vie for every vote.

In the presidential lounge at Riverside’s Mission Inn hang portraits of the presidents who have visited over the years. All but one is Republican. And the Inland Empire has long been a bastion of the GOP. Four years ago, though, voters went for Barack Obama.

With both parties campaigning hard, the Inland Empire could get what it’s been craving: national attention from politicians after all.

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