Consider for a moment what this winter season of Republican presidential candidates lambasting each other while they traversed the countryside of early primary states might have been had California been involved.
Instead of watching the likes of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and the rest (plus the Super-PACs that buy many of their TV commercials) spend all their time and considerable fortune trying to get 12 New Hampshire delegate votes at next summer’s Republican National Convention, Californians could have seen them in person in Fresno and Anaheim. Instead of traveling the wintry cornfields of Iowa in quest of 28 convention votes, they could have been in Eureka and San Gabriel and Mountain View vying for California’s 172.
That’s about 20 percent of what it will take to win the nomination, and the top Republicans would not have been able to ignore any part of California, as they are now ignoring this entire state. Under California Republicans’ winner-take-all-by-congressional-district system, every part of the state could have been vital. Such a vote could have come in early February, as it did four years ago, when their performances here cinched the Republican nomination for John McCain and guaranteed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign would stay alive into late spring.
But California legislators – mostly Democrats – opted to make the state irrelevant this year, after experiencing several early presidential primaries that didn’t turn out quite as influential as some hoped they would be.
So they decided last summer to return this state’s primary to its traditional early June date, where it will likely decide very little on the national level. It has been 40 years since the last time any June presidential primary mattered to anyone.
As a result, Californians have not seen chartered buses with the names of Romney and Newt Gingrich painted large on their sides, as voters did in the early primary states. They will never get to see the likes of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Herman Cain.
Catering companies and charter bus lines, newspapers and hotels, plus television stations and radio outlets lost the many millions of dollars those candidates would have had to spend here. Voters missed seeing the TV commercials that swung votes in the early states. Candidates did not have to address California issues from offshore oil drilling to high-speed rail to smog and home foreclosures. Although they have talked plenty about California-related issues like immigration and unemployment, none has promised California any help, as several did four years ago.
It wasn’t just vindictiveness that caused Democrats in Sacramento to make this state’s many GOP voters completely irrelevant in their party’s nomination process. There was also self-interest.
For no one knew at the time this decision was made in early summer what California’s new legislative and congressional districts would look like. An early primary could have forced politicians into decisions about whether and where to run for their next sinecure that they might later have come to regret. Even now, it’s not completely certain the new district lines drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission won’t be altered.
So politicians shied away from imposing early filing deadlines on themselves, dismissing the possibility of staging a presidential primary separate from other races as too expensive. Never mind that candidate spending could have pumped far more into the state economy that the approximate $40 million cost of a separate vote.
As a result, nothing much has happened here in presidential politics in this cycle. It’s still “way too early” for anything but fund-raising, say Republican Party officials.
But it didn’t have to be, and four years from now, when there will definitely be a contested Democratic presidential primary – and maybe contests in both parties – a late primary should not even be considered.
For California to be left completely out of the presidential nominating process while the likes of South Carolina and Nevada have influence is a classic example of the tail wagging the dog.
No early primary state save Florida has a fraction the diversity of California. None is nearly as representative of America’s panoply of ethnicities and interests.
So for California to have no voice simply makes no sense and a repeat of this year’s situation should never again be tolerated.