Don't look now, but California is trying to move their POTUS primary way up

Is it still too soon to start talking about the 2020 presidential election? Yes, yes… a thousand times yes. Personally I’m still trying to work off the hangover from the last one. But this isn’t really a story about the election itself, who may or may not be running and what Trump’s chances are of being a two term president. (Assuming he even wants to by that point.)

Today’s story deals with the primary, and not even the potential candidates running there. It’s the old bugaboo of which states go where in the batting order and the biggest single chunk of delegates available to either party may be making a bid to be a more significant player. Lawmakers in California just approved a measure to move their primary up to Super Tuesday in March. (Associated Press)

California lawmakers voted early Saturday to set the state’s presidential primary in March, a move that would force candidates to mount expensive campaigns earlier in the state that awards the most delegates.

The bill will go to Gov. Jerry Brown for consideration. He has not said if he will sign it.

The bill would move the presidential primary to the Tuesday after the first Monday in March — three months earlier than the June contest held in 2016, when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were already the presumptive nominees.

A March primary would likely fall on so-called “Super Tuesday,” when roughly a dozen states typically vote following the early primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and several other states.

The arguments against having California do this from a common sense standpoint are probably numerous while having virtually no impact on anything from a legal perspective. Unless and until we come up with some sort of practical primary system which all the states can be convinced to agree to, California will decide when to hold their primary just like the rest of the states.

But let’s not pretend this doesn’t have an impact. Given how many delegates they deliver, everyone is going to want to lock down California if they are one of the first ones out of the gate. And that means that they’re going to have to have (and spend) a boatload of money very early in the process. In theory that could serve to favor dynasties while suppressing a less well known and underfunded outsider who might have made a splash in some smaller state with cheaper media markets and begun building momentum.

Of course, all of that depends on how much you really believe in the “Big Mo.” In theory you could win Iowa, New Hampshire and all of the states on Super Tuesday and still lose the nomination if you strike out in all the remaining states. But the reality is that a lot of money typically stays on the bench until donors see which way the wind is blowing. Anyone who performs above the bar through the second week of March is likely to start attracting even more financial support to carry them through the rest of the race. Those who are too slow out of the gate rarely recover.

One other consideration of an early California primary would be of particular concern to the GOP. Golden State Republicans (much like those in New York) tend to be a bit of a different breed compared to the conservative bastions in the South and Midwest. Anyone taking too much of a moderate tone to win California in the early going will probably have some uncomfortable questions to answer in the next debate when they’re fighting for delegates in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and all the rest. The Democrats, by comparison, can be as far to the left as they like in California and probably come out looking even better for it.

This is yet another example of why we need some sort of rotating regional primary system, assuming we don’t just throw up our hands and have everyone vote on the same day. And don’t expect California to be the only place where this debate pops up. 2016 got fairly ugly on that score early on and there’s little reason to think it won’t happen again.

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022