You may have heard this one before: California is going to be a difference-maker in the Presidential nominating process in 2020. Well, this time, that might be right.
By moving the California Presidential Primary to March 3, the Golden State has positioned itself to be a significant, if not determinative, battleground in the race to win the Democratic Presidential nomination and, presumably, to reestablish the party clout of the nation’s biggest and bluest state.
Coming after only the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, the California primary is a huge prize that will give the leading candidates more delegates than the early four contests combined. The Green Papers (www.thegreenpapers.com), a website that follows the results of United States presidential elections and is particularly known for covering the results of presidential primaries, currently puts California’s total number of delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention at 492. The total contributed by all four earlier contests is estimated at 185 delegates.
Since California Democrats abandoned the winner-take-all primary about four decades ago, the state’s delegate bounty is likely to be split several ways. Nevertheless, whoever comes out on top is likely to garner more delegates than he or she would from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada combined.
It could be that the candidate best positioned to capitalize on California’s reentry into the Presidential sweepstakes is former Vice President Joe Biden; he certainly has the high profile and favorability ratings to resonate with a broad swath of California Democratic Primary voters. With a gazillion contenders in the race, it will be difficult for lesser known candidates to gain traction in a state that has been pretty much immune to retail politics. Knocking on several million doors is hardly feasible.
What about the Californians eyeing the Presidential race? Senator Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Congressman Eric Swalwell from the S.F. Bay area have been circling the contest. It remains to be seen whether any of them is viewed by California Democrats as presidential timber. Familiarity may not always breed contempt, but it certainly tends to undercut a candidate’s mystique.
Senator Harris has garnered a lot of national attention because of her high-wattage role in the Justice Brett Kavanaugh hearings, but her Golden State profile pales in comparison to those of former Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Dianne Feinstein. Harris barely squeaked through in her first race for Attorney General and she cruised to victory against weak candidates in her AG re-election and 2016 U.S. Senate races. Harris’ strength is among voters yearning for the next Obama, as well as those previously thwarted Berniecrats, but unless she scores big in an early primary or caucus, she is unlikely to have much traction coming into March 3, 2020.
Mayor Eric Garcetti has exceptional campaign skills and a real ability to connect with voters, but he still must manage Los Angeles and, particularly, cope with the intractable homeless problem that isn’t going to go away. Besides, voters in the Bay Area would probably vote for the Mayor of Moscow before they would vote for the Mayor of Los Angeles. The last LA Mayor to try for the Presidency was Sam Yorty in 1972, when he made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination. “Mayor Sam”’s candidacy was laid bare in a Los Angeles Times cartoon from the late Paul Conrad, which portrayed “Yorty for President” signs tacked onto syrup-bearing tree trunks; the caption read “The sap is running in the maple trees of New Hampshire”.
Congressman Swalwell keeps boomeranging back and forth from Iowa and MSNBC, but it is hard to imagine him, as a member of a pack of more widely-known candidates, making much of an impact anywhere outside his own district. L.A. County Congressman Adam Schiff , newly-minted Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, might be a different story, but he isn’t running .
But Biden? Really? In the heart of the progressive Resistance?
Despite what the national media seems to think, California isn’t all that far left. Remember that Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders in the 2016 California Democratic Presidential Primary and Dianne Feinstein bested Kevin DeLeon’s challenge from the left in the 2018 Senate primary.
Most of the Democrats who captured previously GOP-held districts in the last general election did it from the middle of the road—not the far Left. The Berniecrat vote in 2020 is likely to be split up among a handful of candidates, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and, possibly Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown—not to mention “Flavor-of-the-month” and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke.
In a state with a relatively small African-American share of the electorate, it is hard to see where New Jersey Senator Cory Booker finds his base, unless he breaks from the pack before the California Primary.
The wild card could be former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has the money and the profile to make an impact, particularly if Joe Biden takes a pass in 2020.
This isn’t the first time California has sought to make itself relevant by moving up its Presidential Primary. The state moved its primary from March to February in the 2008 election, which resulted “in the highest voter turnout for a primary election since 1980,” according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla. The state had previously moved its primaries to March in 2004, 2000 and 1996, after decades of holding a June primary. In 2011, Gov. Brown moved the Presidential timeline back to June for the 2012 primary, consolidating it with the state’s other primaries as a money-saving measure.
This time around, it looks like California may indeed turn out to be a kingmaker or a queenmaker. With 20-plus potential Democratic contenders lining up for a chance to take on Donald Trump, we can expect plenty of action in the Golden State.
California, here they come. Finally!