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Is Stanislaus County, Calif., a picker of presidents?

As Stanislaus County goes, so goes the nation?

That's not a common belief, but under the radar, Stanislaus County's voters have picked the winning presidential ticket in the past nine elections — a 36-year winning streak that includes Democrats and Republicans.

It turns out, voters here are pretty good at identifying successful presidential candidates. The last time voters backed a losing candidate was in 1968, when Democrat Hubert Humphrey eked out a slim margin over Republican Richard Nixon in the county but lost the national election.

Even when the county's party voter registrations heavily favored Democrats, Stanislaus voters opted for winning Republican presidential candidates in 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988 and 2000. They chose Democratic candidates in 1976, 1992 and 1996, the years that Democrats took the White House.

By 2004, Republicans had erased the registration advantage Democrats had held, and voters again went with the winner, helping to re-elect George W. Bush.

Political observers aren't quite ready to declare Stanislaus a bellwether county, however.

"I don't know what it says about Stanislaus County," said Larry Giventer, a political science professor at California State University, Stanislaus. "I guess it's a cross-section of America in its political outlook."

Democratic party activist Sandy Lucas noted that even when the county had a Democratic majority in voter registration, the Democrats elected in Stanislaus County tended to be conservative -- Blue Dog Democrats such as Gary Condit and Dennis Cardoza in Congress.

"It's really been a purple county for a long time," said Lucas, referring to a blend of the Democratic blue and Republican red. Conservative Democrats here sometimes vote for Republicans, and moderate Republicans will sometimes vote for Democrats, she said.

So what does that mean for the Nov. 4 election? It apparently means a donnybrook.

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