Incumbent President Harrison’s administration had been plagued by divisions within his party and by controversy over foreign relations, notably with Italy and Chile. In California, Harrison became less popular because it was believed that Senator Leland Stanford was dictating policies in the interest of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Opposition to its power had already spawned several unsuccessful reform movements in California since 1873, and the growing Populist movement also gained substantial support from small farmers in the state’s Central Valley region. The relative weakness of partisan loyalties in California helped give the movement much more influence than in the East, however the much greater urban character of the state’s economy, the diversity of its agricultural sector and the access of its wheat growers – the basis for Populist victories in the Plains States – to major ocean ports severely weakened the Populist Party under 1880 Greenback nominee James B. Weaver in California. Consequently California would prove Weaver’s weakest state west of the Missouri River, giving him less than ten percent of the vote.
California voted for the Democratic challenger, former presidentGrover Cleveland, over the Republicanincumbent, Benjamin Harrison by an extremely narrow margin of just 147 votes, or a 0.05452% margin, which constitutes the fifth-closest statewide presidential election result on record, behind Florida in 2000, Maryland in 1832 and 1904, and California itself 20 years later in 1912. Because the vote was so close and voters voted for individual electors, the ninth Cleveland elector received fewer votes than one Harrison elector, who was thus elected.
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