Just three days before the Nevada caucuses that will provide the next big test in the race for the Democratic nomination, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is temporarily leaving Las Vegas and jetting into California Wednesday afternoon for a series of events and fundraisers aimed at pumping up his West Coast support.
Delegate-rich California is the golden ring in next month's Super Tuesday mega-primary.
Obama begins his California blitz with an invitation-only event at the home of Van Nuys supporter Mimi Vitello, billed as a "roundtable on economic opportunity." Then he heads to downtown Los Angeles for a late afternoon meeting with the Los Angeles Times.
A sitdown with the elite board that runs the editorial pages at the largest daily in the West is a necessary rite of passage for any national candidate looking for a win in California. (Obama will be meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board on Thursday.)
Before returning to Vegas to close out his Nevada campaign, Obama will head to the tony Pacific Palisades with a $2,300 per plate fundraiser at the home of David Fisher, an investment manager who has contributed large sums to Democratic causes in the past.
One member of the fundraiser's host committee said that the event was so full the campaign was quietly asking co-sponsors to stay away - although she later joked that the problem might have more to do with Fisher's location in Rustic Canyon and that oh-so-L.A. problem of finding enough parking for one's guests.
Obama's visit comes as both he and chief rival Hillary Clinton are turning their attention to California despite heated contests in Nevada and South Carolina. The two sides are waging an aggressive ground war for the Golden State's 370 delegates to the Democratic National Convention that will be up for grabs in the Feb. 5 primary - by far the largest bounty in the nation.
Clinton is also taking time off from Nevada campaigning to return to California on Thursday, less than a week after she unveiled her $70 billion proposal to stimulate a flagging U.S. economy at a Los Angeles-area union jobs training center.
The Clinton Campaign also chose California as the site of daughter Chelsea Clinton's solo debut on the campaign trail. Throughout the early contests, Chelsea, 27, has limited her campaign appearances to those alongside her parents and her grandmother Dorothy Rodham.
But after joining her mother at events in San Diego last Friday, the younger Clinton broke away from the New York senator to stump solo in Los Angeles, visiting the Santa Monica farmers market, lunching with undecided gay and lesbian voters at West Hollywood hot spot The Abbey, and talking to college students at UCLA.
Chelsea later flew up to the Bay Area for more campaign events - friendly territory for someone who earned her undergraduate degree at Stanford University.
And while Obama is campaigning in the Southland Wednesday, former President Bill Clinton is hitting the trail for his wife in Northern California, discussing the economy and the mortgage crisis at events in Oakland, Napa and Eureka.
Although the latest Los Angeles Times poll released Tuesday shows Clinton with a solid lead over Obama among likely California primary voters - 47 percent to 31 percent - the same poll found that four in 10 voters could change their mind before election day, and neither campaign is taking the state for granted.
Golden State political observers have long said that Clinton held an advantage over Obama, given her solid support among the state's major elected officials - including the Democratic leaders in the legislature and the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland.
But the Obama camp enjoys enormous support inside Hollywood and the entertainment industry, a major asset in donor-rich California, and Obama has opened 8 field offices in the state, more than any other candidate.
On Tuesday, the head of the powerful 800,000 member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Maria Elena Durazo, announced she was taking a leave of absence to go work for the Obama campaign through Super Tuesday. Durazo is a major power player in California's labor and Latino communities and the move should help Obama in his battle with Clinton for Hispanic voters.