Capitol Alert

California election chief wants primary election right after Iowa, New Hampshire

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla moved Tuesday to the forefront of a recurring effort to give statewide voters more influence in the presidential primary.

Padilla, a Democrat from Los Angeles who is widely seen as a potential candidate for U.S. Senate, said he wants the state’s June 2020 presidential primary moved up to at least the third Tuesday in March, immediately behind Iowa and New Hampshire.

Padilla is supporting state legislation, Senate Bill 568 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, that also would authorize the governor to bump up the primary even earlier if other states move up their primary elections.

“A state as populous and diverse as California should not be an afterthought,” Padilla said Tuesday. “By holding our primary earlier, we will ensure that issues important to Californians are prioritized by presidential candidates from all political parties.”

California, where Hillary Clinton crushed Donald Trump by about 4.3 million votes in the general election, was essentially irrelevant in the June primary. While Sen. Bernie Sanders made a play with a series of rallies, Clinton won the state after the Associated Press said she had secured enough national delegates to win a day before polls even closed here.

Padilla’s entry into the debate gives him another platform in the state’s protracted standoff with the federal government.

He’s battled the Trump administration over their insistence of voter fraud in the 2016 race, calling the charges baseless and dangerous to democracy, becoming among the first to rebuff the president and his allies over their false claims. In February, he tried unsuccessfully to get his counterparts nationwide to support a resolution essentially saying they are unaware of any evidence supporting Trump’s claims.

Politically, Padilla’s rise as an outspoken Trump critic follows him signing SCN Strategies as chief political consultants. The firm works for Sen. Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and a host of other Democratic officials who have been critical of Trump.

California sought to correct its lack of influence in the primaries by shifting it to February in 2008, an election Padilla noted resulted in the highest primary voter turnout since 1980. Turnout in that contest between Barack Obama and Clinton reached nearly 58 percent, far exceeding the nearly 48 percent in June last year.

Presidential primaries were in March in 2000 (54 percent turnout) and 1996 (42 percent). California shared its March 2, 2004, primary with nine states (44 percent). But lawmakers complained about the protracted election season and moved it back to June.

SB 568 is scheduled for a vote in committee next Tuesday.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago