The California Primary—Missed Again?

Tony Quinn
Political Analyst

Once again it looks like California has moved up its primary to Super Tuesday at exactly the wrong time.  We did this in 2008, and ended up being an afterthought. It could be even worse for California Democrats in 2020, because it looks like a long slog to the Democratic nomination in July, and California will not be able to play its once traditional clean-up role.

Even worse, California could very well make the Iowa caucuses look like the model of efficiency.  Because of our extremely liberal voting laws, it will take all of March to count the final ballots, and until that is done, no one will be able to figure out exactly who gets the California national convention delegates. California’s Democratic delegate rules are all but incomprehensible, and with incomplete returns, there will be no way to figure out who the ultimate winners are.

Delegates are likely to be far more important in the Democratic race this year because of the number of viable candidates.  The chaotic Iowa caucuses found three leading candidates bunched at the top. The New Hampshire primary might well be won by Sen. Bernie Sanders, but not so overwhelmingly as to force any of the other candidates out of the race.

Sanders also looks strong in the Nevada caucuses, and the South Carolina primary, coming just before March 3’s Super Tuesday.  Slowly he has been closing on the once heavily favored former Vice President Joe Biden. But Biden looked terminal after Iowa. His “victory” speech last Monday was rambling, he could barely put a coherent sentence together, at one point he seemed to be talking to the wall.  His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, had that look of, oh when will this be over. If he loses South Carolina, it will indeed be over for Biden.

And then we come to Super Tuesday, 13 states voting on the same day, many in the south and border where the black vote will play a major role.  Texas will be joining California voting that day. But it will not end the Democratic primary race. Neither Sen. Elizabeth Warren nor Mayor Pete Buttigieg are likely to be gone by that date, and the race will see a new entry, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg with his billions ready to spend.

So Super Tuesday looks like it will be an inconclusive night.  The Bolsheviks are at the Winter Palace in the view of many Democrats petrified by the Sanders candidacy.  They know Republicans will exploit Sanders love for former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez (“The American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina … Who’s the banana republic now?”), his famous 1988 honeymoon in the Soviet Union when it was in its final death throes.  “They’re proud of the fact that their health care system is free,” chirped Sanders, at a time the Soviet health care system was one of the worst in the world.  And then there is his promise to raise middle class taxes to pay for his new health care system that no one understands.  

After Super Tuesday, if Sanders does well as he probably will, desperate Democrats will be looking for a big state to stop his momentum.  Only California will have already voted, so it cannot be the state that decides the nomination, as it so often once did.  

Additionally, on March 3, California will present the nation with two huge problems: 

Our new voting laws mean you can mail in your ballot on Election Day and still have it counted.  In 2018, 10.5 million votes were cast early or at the polls on Election Day, but 3.3 million ballots came in late.  That was 24 percent of the total, and it took a full month for some races to be decided. So at best California will only have three quarters of its ballots counted on election night.

Does anyone really expect the national media to wait around for a month for California to decide its delegates?  And when they do, it will be using a system no one understands. California will send 495 delegates to the national convention in Milwaukee, but only 416 will be pledged.  Candidates are allocated District Level Delegates in each congressional district where a candidate receives 15 percent or more. Then candidates who receive 15 percent of more of the stateside vote receive PLEO delegates, defined as Pledged Party Leaders and Elected Officials.  There are also 90 At Large delegates and 76 Unpledged delegates to be divided up.  

Confused yet?  One thing can be sure; there is no possible way to allocate all these delegates under these complex formulae when only 75 percent to the vote will be counted at the end of Election Night.  The pundits and the candidates will rightly throw up their hands, and the move on to other states.

Whether the Sanders socialist crusade is unstoppable at any point, or a more mainstream Democrat prevails, will be decided long after Super Tuesday.  And the chances are that California, having voted far too early, will play a very minor role in that decision.

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