photo illustration of seven Democratic presidential candidates

An earlier say: Race to the White House runs through California

Photo illustration. Photography by Chris Carlson, AP Photo

Sick of bringing up the rear of the national primary schedule, California bumped up its Election Day to March 3. Now, after Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the nation’s largest state will have an early say about who will be occupying the Oval Office come January 2021. And given Golden State voters’ propensity for voting early (in the last election, two-out-of-three California voters cast a ballot by mail), many Californians will have the chance to weigh in as early as February 3rd — the same day that Iowans go to their precious, “first-in-the-nation” caucus meetings. 

President Trump can probably count on the lion’s share of the state’s Republican votes. But on the Democratic side there’s little chance that any one candidate will grab up all of the state’s 495 delegates. That’s because these electors, all of whom will convene in Milwaukee next July to formally pick the party’s next nominee, are awarded roughly proportional to each presidential candidate’s vote. It’s a complex electoral breakdown that breeds complex electoral strategizing. Some delegates will be elected based on their share of the vote in each congressional district. Others will be elected base on the state-wide tally. Still others, including Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state’s various members of Congress, will get an automatic trip to Wisconsin. 

California’s early order in the lineup seems to have garnered it a bit more attention than past elections. While the tonier swaths of San Francisco and Los Angeles are perennial pit stops for campaign fundraisers, this election season has seen candidates visit the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. They’ve weighed in on California state policy debates like how to classify gig workers or whether to raise property taxes on commercial property owners.

But California’s Sen. Kamala Harris, after initially sweeping up much of the state’s Democratic donations and endorsements, saw her campaign stall. She pulled out in December, before a single vote had been cast, citing a lack of money. The only Californian left in the race is Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager turned mega-donor who has poured more money into California politics than most.

So no, California may not have the persistent appeal of an Iowa or a New Hampshire. Coming fifth amid a crowded crop of other states on March 3’s “Super Tuesday,” no one is spending the winter touring the state by bus or blasting our TV channels with ads (few of them, except for billionaire Michael Bloomberg, could afford to).

But this presidential season, you almost get the sense that, at long last, they like us, they really like us.

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