Turnout for Tuesday’s presidential primary in California wasn’t expected to set any records.
But after The Associated Press declared late Monday that Hillary Clinton had already collected enough delegates to become the first female presidential nominee for a major party, campaigns across the state were working hard to ensure the news didn’t further discourage Californians from going to the polls.
“You know, according to the news, we are on the brink of a historic, unprecedented moment. But we still have work to do, don’t we?” Clinton said as she campaigned in Long Beach on Monday evening. “We have six elections tomorrow, and we’re going to fight hard for every single vote, especially right here in California.”
Eight million of the state’s nearly 18 million registered voters – 45 percent – were expected to take part in California’s presidential primary, the majority of them voting by mail, according to estimates by the Field Poll released Monday. That would mean turnout by 32 percent of California’s 24.6 million adults who are eligible to participate.
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45 Likely turnout of registered voters in Tuesday’s primary election
Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said he doubted that the announcement would change those estimates. Bernie Sanders supporters are seen as less dependable, but may still want to send a message, he said, and Clinton’s backers are more likely to be regular voters who reliably show up at the polls on Election Day.
“If they were intending to vote, I think they will,” DiCamillo said.
Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at UC Davis, said she was frustrated by Monday’s announcement, saying she expects it will reduce turnout by young voters, those 18 to 24.
“We’ll lose some, how many I don’t know,” Romero said. “It just didn’t have to be. Why do it the day before?”
Given many young people’s enthusiasm for Sanders, “this election was a unique opportunity for young people to get engaged in the political process.”
“There is a psychology behind all of this,” she said. “All we know is it sounds like it’s done. It’s an authoritative source saying that.”
Sacramento for Bernie Sanders co-founder Eric Sunderland said he had not seen the news because he was “too busy winning for Bernie.” Sunderland said the call would not dampen efforts to activate voters for the Vermont senator.
“I really don’t think it means a thing,” Sunderland said. “If anything, maybe Hillary voters will stay home.”
This year’s Democratic presidential contest, between Clinton and Sanders comes at the tail end of a months-long primary process.
California’s primary election comes amid a massive late surge of registered voters. On Friday, Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported that the state’s voter rolls grew by nearly 646,000 in the weeks before the registration deadline, giving some credit to Facebook’s recent registration reminder to users.
While 45 percent turnout would be higher than it was in the 2012 and 2004 primaries, it would be well below the 58 percent recorded in 2008, when the state moved its presidential nominating contest up to February, and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama competed for the right to represent Democrats in the fall.
Mac Zilber, the campaign manager for Democrat Mae Torlakson in the hard-fought race in San Francisco East Bay’s 14th Assembly District, said he thinks any dropoff in turnout due to the news will be minimal.
Many people already have cast mail ballots, he said; as of Monday, 44,000 mail ballots had been cast in the Assembly district, significantly more than the 31,000 mail ballots there before the June 2014 primary.
“We’re seeing a huge vote-by-mail turnout. Those votes are already locked in,” Zilber said, adding, “I think Bernie Sanders supporters are still going to come out in force.”
Republican hopes of a competitive primary here, which peaked at the state GOP convention last month, were dashed within days when Ted Cruz dropped out following his loss to Donald Trump in Indiana.
Lower participation levels on the GOP side could affect California’s U.S. Senate race featuring Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez, as well as several down-ticket contests for Congress and the Legislature, DiCamillo said.
“It could benefit Sanchez,” who is fighting for a place on the fall ballot, he said. “But also local partisan races … for Congress and the Legislature.”
Sanchez does better with millennial and Latino voters, who are more likely to turn out on Election Day than mail in a ballot.
But Bill Carrick, the chief strategist for Sanchez’s campaign, said the news that Clinton holds enough delegates to win the nomination wasn’t likely to make a difference.
“People are excited about the primary process,” Carrick said late Monday. “We have a surge of new registration, and I think people are going to vote … in pretty good numbers. Both campaigns have dedicated supporters who want to go express their preference for the (presidential) candidate of their choice.”
Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc. said the registration boost among young voters and Latinos had yet to materialize in returned mail ballots as of Monday. Overall, Democrats represent about 45 percent of the electorate. Republicans make up 27 percent and independents are 23 percent.
“The electorate so far does seem to be really good for Democrats,” he said. However, “it’s because we have higher numbers of likely Democrats voting, not (a) massive influx of low-propensity voters.”
Jeremy B. White and Jim Miller contributed to this report.