The increasingly tight battle for the Republican nomination has reached the GoldenState.
For Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, the "gold" lies in the form of California's 172 delegates, the mostof any state.
Given the latest polls, the distribution of those delegates could well make or break anomination.
The latest Field Poll has the numbers: Mitt Romney, who once towered over Rick Santorum by formidablepercentages, now leads the former Pennsylvania senator by just 6 points.
In fact, it's a statistical tie oncethe plus/minus factor is thrown into the mix. More than a shriveled lead, the Field poll shows the momentum inCalifornia going to Santorum-at least for now.
There's another, deeper story that accompanies the numbers. California's Republicans have long fallen into twocamps--the fiscal conservatives and the evangelical conservatives. The division occurs elsewhere, but itparticularly raw here.
The fiscal conservatives are concerned mostly about things like taxing, spending, trade and other economicmatters. Their candidate is the sensible, financially successful Mitt Romney.
The evangelical conservatives focus mostly on matters such as abortion, faith, creationism, and other socialissues. Their candidate is the passionate, committed Rick Santorum who relies on his religious beliefs as hisroad map through life.
These two groups usually find a way to join forces against the Democrats, who are cast as some combination ofbig spenders, enemies of free enterprise, and heathens.
But not now.
The fiscal conservatives and social conservatives are fighting for the Republican party's soul,and the greatest battle for that prize lies ahead in California.
It's more than a struggle for delegates.
The eventual winner will stamp his candidacy at the Republicannational convention with the values that get him the nomination. Only then will we really know the tenor offall battle between him and Democrat Barack Obama.
For now, strap on your seat belts. It's going to get rough and ugly between these two candidates and theirfollowers, and we're going to be seeing it and experiencing it up close and in person.