The benefits and drawbacks of California’s moved-up 2020 primary election are now becoming very clear: Presidential candidates – especially the large corps of Democrats running – are now a ubiquitous presence in the Golden State, and they’re becoming conversant with California issues like never before.
There are drawbacks, but they mostly affect state and local politicians, forced to make earlier decisions than ever about whether to run for new offices. They also must raise money earlier than ever.
But the fact that California figures not to be a stepchild under a new president who has campaigned here for months, regardless of who that might be, outweighs any inconvenience or new burdens on the local political class.
What does it mean for California to be a political stepchild? Just look at the Donald Trump administration’s many actions with immediate or potential ill effects on this state: The attempt to eliminate state authority over smog control, threats to hold back emergency funds for disaster relief, a renewed battle over federal vs. state authority to regulate offshore oil drilling, a refusal to regulate for-profit colleges. Those are only a few Trump initiatives affecting California negatively, items that would be off the table under any president who understands California.
Being in this state can’t help but provide some understanding to the current candidates, who are not only raising record amounts of cash here, but also hustling for California votes as they have not done for the past four decades.
Notable moments also can come during their campaign swings. Vermont’s Sen. Bernard Sanders, who campaigned here in 2016 only after his fate had already been sealed, was confronted by the attorney general’s summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on possible criminal acts by Trump while delivering a campaign speech near San Francisco.
Sanders will remember having to react on the fly.
Others are here seemingly every day. From New York Sen. Kirsten Gillebrand to California’s own Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and many more, they’ve all been here or will be soon. So have the few Republicans who might take on Trump, including ex-Govs. William Weld of Massachusetts and John Kasich of Ohio.
Because Trump is a shoo-in for his party’s nomination, the Democrats draw the attention, with Harris hoping to be a “favorite daughter.” But the local favorite phenomenon has not worked out in recent elections. One example: New Yorker Trump soundly beat Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on his own turf in 2016.
It could be the same for Harris here. Sanders first campaigned in this state while Harris was still state attorney general; he’s as well known here as she is.
But neither is assured a majority of California’s 495 delegates, which by themselves make up well over a quarter of the 1,601 national convention delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination next year. New Hampshire and Iowa have just 68 delegates, combined. California has so many because of its population and its strong Democratic showings in the last three presidential elections.
Because most California delegates are elected in proportional-vote contests within each congressional district, it behooves presidential hopefuls to campaign everywhere in the state. All 53 congressional districts will elect delegates, between four and six per district depending on how strong the recent Democratic vote was in each place. So Democrats who campaign in Republican districts can win delegates without getting very many votes – if they get out of the big cities and visit places like Placer and Shasta counties.
But to earn delegates, a candidate must win at least 15 per cent of Democratic votes. This may eliminate some lesser-known candidates. Others will be weeded out by the high cost of advertising here, but candidates who concentrate on rural areas can get around that.
The entire process is bringing money and eyeballs to California, which has lately gotten some negative portrayals in national media. It’s a scene that can only be good for the entire state, and one that could not happen if the primary were coming on its traditional June primary date.