May 5 (UPI) — Lawmakers in California voted to move the Golden State’s primary up into the early stages of the 2020 race, potentially giving the nation’s most populous state a much larger say in picking the major party nominees.
On Thursday, lawmakers in both the state Assembly and Senate passed measures that would move both the Republican and Democratic primaries in California up to the third Tuesday in March.
That’s in contrast to 2016, when the California primary was the final state contest, held in June just a month before the nominating conventions. While California was the largest delegate haul on the calendar, both the Republican and Democratic races were all but decided by the time it happened. Donald Trump had sewn up the Republican nomination after the Indiana primary in early May. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders continued campaigning through the entire primary process, but Hillary Clinton had amassed a prohibitive lead in the delegate count, thanks in part to superdelegates who backed her campaign.
The 2020 election calendar remains in flux with 18 states yet to set a date and the potential for others to change theirs, though if it remains anywhere close to the 2016 race, California’s primary would come about a month after the nation’s first primary in New Hampshire, typically sometime in mid-February. It would come after Super Tuesday, the single largest day on the primary calendar, which is traditionally held on the first Tuesday in March.
In presidential years, the final election calendar is decided by the individual parties not by the states. In previous election cycles, states were punished by the parties for trying to leapfrog to the front of the line. In 2008, Michigan was stripped of its delegates by the Democratic National Committee for scheduling its primary before that of New Hampshire, which has long defended its status as the nation’s presidential wine taster.
The presence of California so early in the nominating process could have a potentially important influence on the dynamics of the race.
Despite the huge prize in delegates, the time and cost of campaigning in California could cause candidates strained for resources to skip the state entirely, leaving it to one or two front-runners to duke it out. California is home to several of the nation’s most expensive media markets and unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, where retail campaigning is a core strategy for every candidate, in media-saturated California shaking hands in diners would barely register a blip on the radar and only reach a tiny fraction of the millions of eligible voters.