Democratic candidates considering a run for president in 2020 will have to make their case early to voters on the liberal Left Coast, if officials in key western states get their way.
Officials in California, Oregon and Washington are taking steps to move their presidential primary contests toward the front of the nominating calendar. They say they want voters in their states to have more influence over the candidates the two parties will nominate, and holding earlier contests is key to expanding that influence.
“If you go earlier, you have more opportunity to have some influence and have your voters’ voices heard,” said Kim Wyman (R), Washington’s secretary of state.
Wyman has asked the Washington state legislature to move the presidential primary to the second Tuesday in March, just two weeks after the conclusion of an initial round of nominating contests in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson (R) wrote to his legislators this week asking them to approve a similar move. Wyman said she and Richardson have spoken about creating a Western States primary to bolster their influence.
In California, state legislators approved a bill this month that would move their 2020 primary — for both the presidential and down-ballot contests — to the first Tuesday in March.
“California’s not just the most populous state in the nation, we’re the most diverse state in the nation, we represent the largest economy in the nation, and I think we should have a much more significant voice in who the next president of the United States is,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D), who backed the move to an earlier primary.
Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has not said how he will act on the presidential primary bill, among hundreds of measures awaiting his signature or veto after the state legislature wrapped up their work for the year last week.
The initial forays into the messy world of presidential nominating calendars are only the first moves in what is likely to be years of gamesmanship between states for added influence.
State legislators typically work with leaders of the two major political parties to coordinate primary or caucus dates, and the state parties must win approval from the Republican and Democratic National Committees before they can change their election dates.
The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will pass initial rules governing the party’s 2020 nominating process sometime next year. States will be required to submit plans for allocating delegates by the summer of 2019, giving California and other states jockeying for position two full years to get their primary or caucus plans in order.
The RNC has a similar process, though if President Trump seeks reelection his operatives are likely to wield control over the internal party debate.
Supporters in all three West Coast states bemoaned their lack of influence on the 2016 presidential contests. Republicans in Oregon and Washington didn’t get the chance to vote until May, after Trump was already the party’s presumptive nominee. Californians held their primary in June.
Democrats in Washington allocated their delegates in a March 26 caucus, held independently of the state’s primary, when they chose Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE by a three-to-one margin. Oregon voters chose Sanders just before Clinton became the presumptive nominee, but she captured the title before California voters went to the polls on June 7.
Josh Putnam, a political scientist who keeps tabs on the party nominating process at the Frontloading HQ blog, said both Oregon and Washington face hurdles to moving up in the process.
Oregon currently holds its presidential primary in conjunction with its state and federal primaries. Moving the state and federal primaries to an earlier date would conflict with the legislative session, while splitting the contests would lead to millions in new costs at a time when the state budget is already squeezed.
In Washington, Democrats have allocated their delegates through caucuses run by the party rather than a primary run by the state since 1992. Wyman, a Republican, would have to convince Democrats to make the state’s primary something more than a beauty contest.
Even if California moves to the head of the pack, the West Coast’s importance in the Democratic primary will grow. The Golden State accounts for about 12 percent of the pledged delegates at stake under Democratic rules.
Not every California Democrat is enthusiastic about giving their voters a bigger say. Some Democrats worry that giving California voters more influence over the nominating process would force their party’s ultimate nominee too far to the left. The state’s Democratic electorate is among the most liberal in the nation.
“There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that California, whether you like it or not, whether you applaud this fact or not, is abberationally liberal compared to the rest of the country,” said Garry South, a Democratic strategist in Los Angeles who worked for presidential candidates Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreCNN coronavirus town hall to feature science author David Quammen, ‘Empire’ actress Taraji Henson Top Democratic pollster advised Biden campaign to pick Warren as VP Melania Trump to appear on CNN coronavirus town hall Thursday night MORE in 2000 and Joe Lieberman in 2004. “To have Democrats running for president come into California and have to essentially conform their campaign to the politics of California I think is somewhat problematic.”
The state’s massive population, which includes more registered voters than the total population of 46 of the other 49 states, would mean a candidate would be forced to spend millions on paid television advertising to get their message out.
Padilla, California’s chief elections official, dismissed concerns that a megastate like California would be a burden on candidates who might otherwise catch fire in smaller states, where retail campaigning is more practical.
“We’re not proposing to leapfrog Iowa or New Hampshire or Nevada or South Carolina for that matter, so I think there’s going be a lot to be said for candidates who earn support and build momentum,” he told The Hill.
Some see California’s move as an effort to bolster homegrown favorites. At least two California Democrats — Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — are said to be contemplating White House bids.
But history is not on their side: The Democratic Party has never nominated a candidate from a state west of Nebraska, the home of William Jennings Bryant, or Texas, the home of Lyndon Baines Johnson. California Gov. Jerry Brown failed to win his home state in any of his three presidential bids, in 1976, 1980 and 1992.
Harris’s office said the freshman senator had not taken a position on the measure to move the state’s primary closer to the front of the pack.
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