Commentary: Early Primary Leads to Uncertain Role for California in Presidential Elections

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Interesting article in this morning’s Sacramento Bee on the impact of the early February Primary in California.

The belief is that while the Presidential Candidates are not treating California like they are Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, California is reaping some rewards from the move.

The Sacramento Bee says:

“As candidates enter the thick of primary season, most are saving their serious campaign efforts for states holding January elections such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

That’s largely because California’s Feb. 5 primary date is no longer unique – or all that early. More than 20 other states followed suit by scheduling their elections for the same day, and six states leapfrogged California altogether by holding their contests in January.

Some political analysts believe the nearly two dozen “Super Tuesday” states may simply validate nominees chosen by early state voters as the field shrinks throughout January.”

We are not seeing Candidates coming to the state fair or going to the local farmer’s markets in search of votes. None of the candidates have aired campaign ads in the state’s big media markets.

They quote a Republican consultant and California adviser to Mitt Romney:

“The governor was correct that it would make California more relevant, and it has, but the state is still in a second-tier category with the rest of the country… What moving us up has done is saved us from being completely irrelevant, which the state has been in the past.”

And that’s the bottom line–California is not a battleground at this point but it is also not irrelevant.

According to the article, California has been the fourth most visited state in the nation. There were appearances by all of the candidates at the Democratic State Convention earlier this year and by several of the Republican candidates at the Republican State Convention.

However, for the most part, California is viewed as a state in which to raise money rather than a state in which to court votes.

“When Schwarzenegger signed legislation to move the primary date, he bemoaned that candidates previously “collected millions of dollars in campaign contributions, and then they left as quickly as possible. I’m happy to say that those days are over.”

Political strategists say the governor was partly correct. Candidates have made more public appearances, shaken more hands and answered more media questions. But almost every public event has been associated with a fundraiser, still a major reason candidates flock to California.”

There was an ulterior motive by the state Democratic leaders in moving the state up in the primary season. State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata have pushed for a change in term limit laws and the February election gives them enough time to pass the law and run for re-election.

My own view of the primary system is rather mixed. On the one hand, I am not completely convinced that a system in which small states that are somewhat national outliers are decisive by-and-large in selecting the party nominees for President is a good one.

On the other hand, I am also not convinced, at least in most cases, that the party nominee would have been significantly different under a previous system.

The reason for this is that if you take primaries out of the equation and look at the who the party nominees are you find that they are usually the ones with the best campaign organization, the best ability to raise money, and generally the most accomplished or biggest name in the race. The Republican front runner has always won. The Democrats have elected some people who might have surprised you at the time, Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, and Bill Clinton. But then you have to ask yourself, did the primary season cause this, or did these people end up as the best known, most money, etc. And I have a hard time arguing otherwise even in the case of Jimmy Carter. Neither Dukakis nor Clinton ran against strong fields, they were clearly the strongest in a weak field.

Nevertheless the prospect of having the nominees determined by early February, does not seem conducive to a healthy system, where the two main nominees will essentially battle it out for nine months until long after everyone but the most partisan of partisans care anymore.

We would be far better off with rotating regional primaries starting in March or April. Finish the primaries by the end of June, have the party conventions in late July or August, and leave a few months for the horse race to finish up.

At the end of the day as well, the attempts to change term limits in time for election seems like a transparent power grab move and as I have stated here in the past, does not solve the real problems posed by term limits, rather they shuffled the chairs on the deck so to speak. Meantime, changing the rules midstream may have a huge impact locally on our elections. The Assembly race has been going on for nearly a year already and the candidates have probably raised a combined 6 or 7 hundred thousand. Assemblywoman Lois Wolk is without a primary challenge if the State Senate seat is indeed open, so she is waiting back to see what happens with the term limit rules. Neither Mayor Christopher Cabaldon nor Supervisor Mariko Yamada have that luxury, so they have been going all-out for a seat that there is a chance will not be open two months from now. I do not see this as a wise decision by the California Democratic Leadership. In fact, just the opposite.

At the end of the day, I doubt most people are going to be satisfied with the Presidential nominee process or the fact that voting starts in just over a month.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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24 thoughts on “Commentary: Early Primary Leads to Uncertain Role for California in Presidential Elections”

  1. Mike Adams

    I think that it is time to start electing presidents by popular vote. I realize that it will be difficult to get this through small states as a constitutional amendment, but I think that there could be a popular groundswell – and it would make every vote count equally.

  2. Mike Adams

    I think that it is time to start electing presidents by popular vote. I realize that it will be difficult to get this through small states as a constitutional amendment, but I think that there could be a popular groundswell – and it would make every vote count equally.

  3. Mike Adams

    I think that it is time to start electing presidents by popular vote. I realize that it will be difficult to get this through small states as a constitutional amendment, but I think that there could be a popular groundswell – and it would make every vote count equally.

  4. Mike Adams

    I think that it is time to start electing presidents by popular vote. I realize that it will be difficult to get this through small states as a constitutional amendment, but I think that there could be a popular groundswell – and it would make every vote count equally.

  5. Rich Rifkin

    I don’t disagree with electing presidents by popular vote. (I would like that with an instant run-off.) However, to do that, we would have to amend the constitution. But we will never do that, because the smallest 13states have an unbreakable veto over any amendment.

  6. Rich Rifkin

    I don’t disagree with electing presidents by popular vote. (I would like that with an instant run-off.) However, to do that, we would have to amend the constitution. But we will never do that, because the smallest 13states have an unbreakable veto over any amendment.

  7. Rich Rifkin

    I don’t disagree with electing presidents by popular vote. (I would like that with an instant run-off.) However, to do that, we would have to amend the constitution. But we will never do that, because the smallest 13states have an unbreakable veto over any amendment.

  8. Rich Rifkin

    I don’t disagree with electing presidents by popular vote. (I would like that with an instant run-off.) However, to do that, we would have to amend the constitution. But we will never do that, because the smallest 13states have an unbreakable veto over any amendment.

  9. Rich Rifkin

    “We would be far better off with rotating regional primaries starting in March or April. Finish the primaries by the end of June, have the party conventions in late July or August, and leave a few months for the horse race to finish up.”

    I agree with you, David. Each of the “regional primaries” should have states whose total population adds up to roughly 30 million people (10% of the total). And as much as possible, the states in each region should be contiguous.

    That would mean 10 superprimary dates:

    March 11
    April 1
    April 22
    May 13
    June 3
    June 17
    July 1
    July 15
    July 29
    August 12

    The states going first would still get most of the attention from the large fields of candidates. And the last 3-4 groups would likely be irrelevant most years. But it would, over time, be fairer to all voters in all states, other than Iowa and New Hampshire, in having a say in who the nominees are.

    Also, by spacing the elections out every three weeks in the early stages, the candidates would have a chance to campaign in the subsequent regions.

    The only way to get something like this done would be for Congress to force it down the throats of the parties and have the parties not recognize any states which don’t go along with the system.

  10. Rich Rifkin

    “We would be far better off with rotating regional primaries starting in March or April. Finish the primaries by the end of June, have the party conventions in late July or August, and leave a few months for the horse race to finish up.”

    I agree with you, David. Each of the “regional primaries” should have states whose total population adds up to roughly 30 million people (10% of the total). And as much as possible, the states in each region should be contiguous.

    That would mean 10 superprimary dates:

    March 11
    April 1
    April 22
    May 13
    June 3
    June 17
    July 1
    July 15
    July 29
    August 12

    The states going first would still get most of the attention from the large fields of candidates. And the last 3-4 groups would likely be irrelevant most years. But it would, over time, be fairer to all voters in all states, other than Iowa and New Hampshire, in having a say in who the nominees are.

    Also, by spacing the elections out every three weeks in the early stages, the candidates would have a chance to campaign in the subsequent regions.

    The only way to get something like this done would be for Congress to force it down the throats of the parties and have the parties not recognize any states which don’t go along with the system.

  11. Rich Rifkin

    “We would be far better off with rotating regional primaries starting in March or April. Finish the primaries by the end of June, have the party conventions in late July or August, and leave a few months for the horse race to finish up.”

    I agree with you, David. Each of the “regional primaries” should have states whose total population adds up to roughly 30 million people (10% of the total). And as much as possible, the states in each region should be contiguous.

    That would mean 10 superprimary dates:

    March 11
    April 1
    April 22
    May 13
    June 3
    June 17
    July 1
    July 15
    July 29
    August 12

    The states going first would still get most of the attention from the large fields of candidates. And the last 3-4 groups would likely be irrelevant most years. But it would, over time, be fairer to all voters in all states, other than Iowa and New Hampshire, in having a say in who the nominees are.

    Also, by spacing the elections out every three weeks in the early stages, the candidates would have a chance to campaign in the subsequent regions.

    The only way to get something like this done would be for Congress to force it down the throats of the parties and have the parties not recognize any states which don’t go along with the system.

  12. Rich Rifkin

    “We would be far better off with rotating regional primaries starting in March or April. Finish the primaries by the end of June, have the party conventions in late July or August, and leave a few months for the horse race to finish up.”

    I agree with you, David. Each of the “regional primaries” should have states whose total population adds up to roughly 30 million people (10% of the total). And as much as possible, the states in each region should be contiguous.

    That would mean 10 superprimary dates:

    March 11
    April 1
    April 22
    May 13
    June 3
    June 17
    July 1
    July 15
    July 29
    August 12

    The states going first would still get most of the attention from the large fields of candidates. And the last 3-4 groups would likely be irrelevant most years. But it would, over time, be fairer to all voters in all states, other than Iowa and New Hampshire, in having a say in who the nominees are.

    Also, by spacing the elections out every three weeks in the early stages, the candidates would have a chance to campaign in the subsequent regions.

    The only way to get something like this done would be for Congress to force it down the throats of the parties and have the parties not recognize any states which don’t go along with the system.

  13. Anonymous

    Why don’t you take up an opinion instead of just summarizing the article, taking one side and then also taking the other side. Grow a pair and stick to one side of the argument

  14. Anonymous

    Why don’t you take up an opinion instead of just summarizing the article, taking one side and then also taking the other side. Grow a pair and stick to one side of the argument

  15. Anonymous

    Why don’t you take up an opinion instead of just summarizing the article, taking one side and then also taking the other side. Grow a pair and stick to one side of the argument

  16. Anonymous

    Why don’t you take up an opinion instead of just summarizing the article, taking one side and then also taking the other side. Grow a pair and stick to one side of the argument

  17. Anonymous

    Only political junkies would think that having the Presidential campaign circus crawling all over the state and political ads on the air for two years straight would be something that most Californians would actually like.

    It’s like the cherished belief of most pols that CSPAN is essential viewing.

  18. Anonymous

    Only political junkies would think that having the Presidential campaign circus crawling all over the state and political ads on the air for two years straight would be something that most Californians would actually like.

    It’s like the cherished belief of most pols that CSPAN is essential viewing.

  19. Anonymous

    Only political junkies would think that having the Presidential campaign circus crawling all over the state and political ads on the air for two years straight would be something that most Californians would actually like.

    It’s like the cherished belief of most pols that CSPAN is essential viewing.

  20. Anonymous

    Only political junkies would think that having the Presidential campaign circus crawling all over the state and political ads on the air for two years straight would be something that most Californians would actually like.

    It’s like the cherished belief of most pols that CSPAN is essential viewing.

  21. Have a pair

    Anonymous 11:47 am – It sounds like you need to grow a pair. If you “grew a pair” I guess you wouldn’t be posting as “Anonymous,” would you?

    Summarizing an article with a few comments can be taking a position. Sometimes being neutral on an issue is taking a position if people don’t feel strongly about an issue one way or another, or if a person is still trying to decipher their position on an issue.

    Have you grown some yet?

  22. Have a pair

    Anonymous 11:47 am – It sounds like you need to grow a pair. If you “grew a pair” I guess you wouldn’t be posting as “Anonymous,” would you?

    Summarizing an article with a few comments can be taking a position. Sometimes being neutral on an issue is taking a position if people don’t feel strongly about an issue one way or another, or if a person is still trying to decipher their position on an issue.

    Have you grown some yet?

  23. Have a pair

    Anonymous 11:47 am – It sounds like you need to grow a pair. If you “grew a pair” I guess you wouldn’t be posting as “Anonymous,” would you?

    Summarizing an article with a few comments can be taking a position. Sometimes being neutral on an issue is taking a position if people don’t feel strongly about an issue one way or another, or if a person is still trying to decipher their position on an issue.

    Have you grown some yet?

  24. Have a pair

    Anonymous 11:47 am – It sounds like you need to grow a pair. If you “grew a pair” I guess you wouldn’t be posting as “Anonymous,” would you?

    Summarizing an article with a few comments can be taking a position. Sometimes being neutral on an issue is taking a position if people don’t feel strongly about an issue one way or another, or if a person is still trying to decipher their position on an issue.

    Have you grown some yet?

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