California will hold its 2020 presidential primary in March rather than late in the process in June, under state legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday.
Brown did not issue remarks with his signature, but proponents said their chief motivation was to make California – long a source of campaign donations – more relevant in the nominating process.
“Candidates will not be able to ignore the largest, most diverse state in the nation as they seek our country’s highest office,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said Wednesday.
Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens and the author of Senate Bill 568, predicted the so-called “prime time primary” would change elections here for the better.
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“We have a responsibility to drive a different agenda at the national level and promote inclusion and consensus, not the politics of division,” he added in a swipe at President Donald Trump.
Among the potential beneficiaries of the earlier primary are U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, rising Democratic stars who are often discussed as possible presidential candidates. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has been active in the state early.
An analysis by Paul Mitchell, a consultant and elections expert with Political Data Inc., found that under the current delegate count and schedule, California would account for 37 percent of the elected delegates on Super Tuesday, and 33 percent of all delegates elected to that point.
Even if the national party penalizes California for going early by stripping 70 delegates, the state would still have 32 percent of the delegates awarded on Super Tuesday, and 28 percent of all the delegates awarded by that point in the process.
California last sought to correct its lack of impact in the primaries by shifting its vote to February in 2008.
Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in California, but he outlasted Clinton by peeling off a string of states. Still, it helped boost turnout among registered voters here to nearly 58 percent.
Presidential primaries were in March in 2000 (54 percent turnout) and 1996 (42 percent). California shared its March 2004 primary with nine states (44 percent), but lawmakers complained about the protracted election season and pushed it back to June.
Critics of the process point to a handful of factors that could lessen the state’s 2020 impact: Delegates are awarded proportionally based on a candidate’s performance.
Also, other states could move up their primaries. More than 20 states ultimately shared their primary day with California in 2008, the earliest date allowed by the Democratic Party without special exception.