Obama's popularity trickling into state races

SACRAMENTO They credit him for the recent surge in voter registration in California, giving Democrats an advantage over Republicans, 44% to 33%.

Now, they're hoping the excitement will trickle down to Legislative races.

"Democrats are playing in areas that have never seen strong Democratic candidates before," said democratic strategist Steve Maviglio. "Suburban areas that typically go Republican are now leaning democratic because of Barack Obama."

The hottest race is Senate District 19, near Santa Barbra, where the six-and-a-half point voter registration advantage Republicans had over Democrats has nearly evaporated.

In northern California Assembly District 15 has been elusive for Democrats for years, but this year, they have a slight edge in voter registration.

"I think we can gain close to a two-thirds majority of the Legislature in California," said California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres.

If Democrats can, in fact, get a two-thirds majority in the state house, it would be easier to pass a state budget.

Every year funding for schools and healthcare programs is held up because there aren't enough Republicans crossing over to vote for the state spending plan.

GOP leaders admit the Obama factor is there, but the trickle down to state races is not.

"It makes them more competitive in an environment like this," said California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring. "But we have very strong candidates in those districts and I'm very comfortable with the strength of our campaigns."

It is a long shot for Democrats to win all ten seats in play. But if they somehow pull it off, a two-thirds majority would make it easier to raise taxes and over-ride a gubernatorial veto.

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