For decades now, California has had very little impact on presidential elections. Sure, the state represents the largest electoral college prize, but the winner of that prize hasn’t been in doubt for quite some time. As such, very little campaign attention is paid to the nation’s most populous state.
For Californians, their lack of influence on presidential politics extends beyond the general election. Even during primary season, the state’s June primary election is often too late to sway the process. However, the California legislature is readying to change that. If they do, the impact on the 2020 election could be vast.
California is pushing forward with a plan to change the state’s primary date from June to March, a move that could scramble the 2020 presidential nominating contest and swing the early weight of the campaign to the west.
If adopted by the legislature this week — as is widely expected — and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, the early primary would allocate California’s massive haul of delegates just after the nation’s first contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
The earlier primary could benefit at least two potential presidential contenders from California — U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — while jeopardizing the prospects of other candidates who will struggle to raise enough early money to compete in expensive media markets in the nation’s most populous state.
“In all probability, the winner of the California primary would be the nominee,” said Don Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman from South Carolina.
However, some critics say moving the date will have little impact:
In 2008, the state tried to change that by holding a February primary. But more than 20 other states also moved up their contests in response and while California drew a competitive race, the outcome was not decisive — Hillary Clinton won the primary here, but lost the nomination.
“They can change the dates all they want — we’ve tried this over and over and over, and it has not worked,” said Tony Quinn, a political analyst and former Republican legislative aide in California. “I think what you’re dealing with are politicians who don’t have any memory.”
Regardless, the plan seems destined to pass:
But the legislation awaiting a vote in Sacramento has faced little opposition and, with passage near certain, no lobbying from Harris or Garcetti. Democratic consultants in California said an earlier primary could benefit those candidates, but noted they would still have to perform well in the first four contests.
Despite being a few years away, both parties are already making plans for what is sure to be a contentious 2020 election. For California, this plan has the potential to make the state a major player.
[Note: This post was authored by Michael Lee. Follow him on Twitter @UAMichaelLee]