With "Super Tuesday" only three days away, the state's Latino voters are set to play a crucial role in choosing the next president.
But the country's fastest-growing minority is split on a candidate to represent the Democratic Party.
While Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., enjoys strong support among Latinos, growing numbers are pledging their allegiance to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
There are about 9 million Latino registered voters in the nation, including 2.7 million in California and 186,000 in San Bernardino County.
Latinos make up one in five Democratic primary voters in California, according to the the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.
Because they are concentrated in states rich in electoral college votes such as California and New York or in key swing states such as New Mexico and New Jersey, it only takes a small switch in the Latino vote to change the outcome of an election.
About 20 Latino and black activists held a rally Friday in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue at San Bernardino City Hall to formally endorse Obama.
"Senator Obama is a unifier that can transcend ethnicity, race, gender, class and religion and bring the country together to effectively address the multiplicity of domestic and international issues facing the country," Armando Navarro, an ethnic studies professor at UC Riverside, said at the rally.
Navarro and others said Obama has consistently supported policies to give legal residency, citizenship and driver's licenses to the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.
Obama takes big risk on driver's license issue
Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Monday, January 28, 2008
(01-28) 04:00 PST Washington -- Sen. Barack Obama easily won the African American vote in South Carolina, but to woo California Latinos, where he is running 3-to-1 behind rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, he is taking a giant risk: spotlighting his support for the red-hot issue of granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
It's a huge issue for Latinos, who want them. It's also a huge issue for the general electorate, which most vehemently does not. Obama's stand could come back to haunt him not only in a general election, but with other voters in California, where driver's licenses for illegal immigrants helped undo former Gov. Gray Davis.
Clinton stumbled into that minefield in a debate last fall and quickly backed off. First she suggested a New York proposal for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants might be reasonable. Then she denied endorsing the idea, and later came out against them.
Asked directly about the issue now, her California campaign spokesman said Clinton "believes the solution is to pass comprehensive immigration reform."
"Barack Obama has not backed down" on driver's licenses for undocumented people, said Federico Peña, a former Clinton administration Cabinet member and Denver mayor now supporting Obama. "I think when the Latino community hears Barack's position on such an important and controversial issue, they'll understand that his heart and his intellect is with Latino community."