They are still counting votes in California’s $1 billion off-year election, but the state’s professional politicians are already thinking ahead to the next one because it might give them a rare opportunity to play roles in presidential politicking.
Most of today’s politicians were children, or perhaps not even born, the last time California counted in the quadrennial exercise of choosing presidential candidates.
Traditionally, the state has held its primary elections in June, and in recent decades both parties’ candidates have been pretty well locked in by then.
California’s late primary was not bothersome to would-be presidents. None relished having to spend the many millions of dollars that full-blown campaigns in the state require. A couple of efforts to move California’s primary earlier and make it something more than a rich source of campaign funds—to be spent elsewhere—failed to change national dynamics.
However, 2020 could be different.
Not only are several Democratic politicians from California itching to join the ever-growing field of those eager to take on President Donald Trump, but also the Legislature has once again tried to make the state relevant by moving its presidential primary to March.
As with past efforts, the rationale is that aspirants to the presidency should not be allowed to ignore a state as large and culturally and economically important as California. An unspoken factor is resentment among California politicians that they were being bypassed as White House candidates courted political figures in other, much smaller states with early primaries.
The change of California’s date means, as political statistician Paul Mitchell noted at a recent post-election discussion on this year’s vote, mail ballots for the March 2020 presidential primary will be distributed to voters in less than 15 months.
That, Californians hope, will force presidential aspirants to change their focus. Instead of spending the early weeks of 2020 just tramping through the snow in Iowa and New Hampshire to shake hands with voters, serious candidates will have to spend time and money—lots of money—in California to demonstrate viability by grabbing significant shares of its huge trove of Democratic National Convention delegates.
It would seemingly give an edge to candidates that have fat bankrolls to spend on television ads and advice from California’s big corps of campaign consultants.
It might also favor potential candidates from California. There’s little doubt that California’s early primary is a factor in the unusual number of home-grown Democratic potentials.
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are already campaigning, albeit unofficially. And other Californians, such as billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Congressmen Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, are emitting signals of interest.
There’s already speculation in the national political media about whether Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom could convert his landslide win this month into a California presidential primary win 16 months hence, as either an active candidate or a favorite son to give him personal clout within the Democratic Party.
There are so many would-be presidents sprouting up in California that if all or most of them actually run, they could cancel each other out in the state’s presidential primary and once again make the state a non-factor in choosing someone to challenge Trump.