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California effort to alter '08 race stalls

The initiative promised to end the winner-take-all system. Now there's no money to solicit voter signatures.

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California's Presidential Election Reform Act was supposed to end the state's winner-take-all jackpot (55 electoral votes) for presidential candidates.

Because the proposed ballot initiative was likely to provide an unusual windfall for Republicans – perhaps as many as a third of the state's electoral votes – it sent Democrats into paroxysms when it was announced in August.

But just two weeks after activists began collecting signatures to meet a deadline at the end of November, two initiative leaders resigned Sept. 27, effectively shuttering operations.

"We have stopped gathering signatures because we have no money," says Mike Arno, head of a Sacramento, Calif.-based grass-roots firm that was hired to collect signatures.

What scared donors away is a story of political will unleashed by Democrats both in and out of California who opposed the initiative, political analysts say.

Early polls showed the measure had a respectable chance of success, with 47 percent supporting the idea and 35 percent opposing it, according to a California Field Poll taken in mid-August.

But before signature-gatherers hit the streets, the California Democratic Party took out TV, radio, and print ads against the proposal, which was unusual since it hadn't been vetted by voters. The state party sent out 800,000 e-mails to solicit an eventual army of 800 volunteers who went to petition sites and talked people out of signing.

"From Day 1, we were out on the field blasting everything they were doing – and it went down in flames in record time," says Bob Mulholland, spokesman for the California Democratic Party.

The Democrats' army of self-proclaimed "fraud busters" also lobbied newspaper editorial boards and bloggers, articulating why they believed it was a blatant power-grab.

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