Almost exactly one year from today – Jan. 26, 2016 – voters in New Hampshire will don parkas and trek through snowdrifts to tell the rest of America who should be running for president and who should not.
That vote will come eight days after the Iowa caucuses draw a few tens of thousands of die-hard activists from both major parties to give their version of the same thing.
Within less than three weeks, Nevada and South Carolina will follow, ensuring yet another four-year electoral cycle where the tail wags the dog. Candidates will have to know all about ethanol subsidies to compete in Iowa, but because California votes on June 7 next year, no candidate will have to know much about this state’s high speed rail project or the “twin tunnels” water development sought by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Once again, California won’t matter as the Podunk states of America decide the future of this country and much of the world’s future as well. California won’t even be a factor in the general election, as the Democrats’ heavy voter registration advantage here pretty much assures its 55 electoral votes to the Democratic nominee, no matter who that may be.
It didn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way in 2020 and beyond.
One big reason California won’t count for much next year is that state legislators made no effort to set an early date for the state’s primary. They figured that every time they tried that – the state has voted in early February in several recent election cycles – it still hasn’t mattered much.
This was because whenever California moved up its primary, other states governed by an “anywhere but California” mindset moved theirs up even earlier, with things getting so absurd that in 2008 and 2012, Iowans caucused just three days after the New Year’s celebrations.
California lawmakers also have their own reasons for disliking early primaries, the main one being that early votes accelerate filing deadlines, which normally fall about three months before primary day. This forces them to speed up their decision-making process, eroding their comfort levels. An early primary also means early fund-raising, forcing many officials to get on the phone with donors just a couple of months after taking office.
But no one can say accurately that moving California’s primary up doesn’t increase its influence. The hard-fought 2008 Democratic contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is probably Example A of this. Obama dominated much of the initial going, but when California voted in early February, Clinton emerged about even with the eventual president. So California alone assured that the Democratic race extended well into April and all the way to Pennsylvania before Clinton finally conceded.
It also meant that both candidates trekked around the state, it meant millions of advertising dollars for California media, plenty of revenue and extra jobs for services like caterers and charter bus lines.
The only reason California didn’t decide the Democratic race for Clinton was the national party rule demanding proportionate representation. Obama lost in most California congressional districts, but got plenty of national convention delegates anyhow. The result would have been very different under the Republicans’ more decisive winner-take-all rules.
So anyone who says California didn’t matter when it voted earlier is only partially correct. And anyone who says the calendar can’t still be altered is also not completely correct.
If California legislators and Gov. Brown want to increase this state’s influence, they can do it right now, even though there would be a bit of a price. If California moved up into January, Republican Party rules would deprive it of about 70 percent of its convention delegates.
The Democrats might also assess a delegate penalty, but it’s not automatic, and there’s some doubt they would, since they want to keep California solidly in their column.
All of which means California will be irrelevant-land during the next presidential season, unless politicians here are willing to defy the national parties. But they won’t, and most likely will find new excuses to avoid moving up the vote in future election seasons, just because staying put in June is easier for them despite the fact it disenfranchises their tens of millions of constituents.