Editorials

With long campaigns, California returns to presidential spotlight

Hillary Clinton addresses Asian American supporters in San Gabriel on Jan. 7. Presidential candidates of both parties will be spending more time in California before the June primary.
Hillary Clinton addresses Asian American supporters in San Gabriel on Jan. 7. Presidential candidates of both parties will be spending more time in California before the June primary. The Associated Press

This year, California’s presidential primary will almost certainly matter, especially for Republicans – a boon to political junkies, TV stations and voters alike.

It’s even more reason to register to vote. The deadline to register for the June 7 primary is May 23, and mail balloting will start May 9.

California is the biggest prize left on the Republican side, with 172 delegates of the 1,237 required to win the nomination.

Though Donald Trump remains the clear front-runner with 673 delegates after Tuesday’s primaries, Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s win in his home state makes it more difficult for Trump to clinch the nomination before the convention in Cleveland.

To get there, Trump needs to win most of the remaining big winner-take-all states, then clean up in California. If Trump doesn’t reach a majority, his rivals – Kasich and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – can strengthen their hands heading into a conceivably contested convention by collecting as many delegates in California as possible.

According to state GOP rules, the winner in each of the state’s 53 congressional districts gets three delegates, and the top vote-getter statewide gets another 10. (The remaining three delegates are the state party chairman and two Republican national committee members.) That puts a premium on being well organized across the state and means that Republicans in heavily Democratic districts – for instance the 30,000 in the San Francisco one represented by Nancy Pelosi – will have an outsized say.

GOP rules say only registered Republicans can vote in the primary. For a party shrinking by the tens of thousands of voters, it’s not doing itself any favors by closing its primary to the rising number of unaffiliated voters.

On the Democratic side, while Sen. Bernie Sanders vows to keep going to the convention in Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton is well on the way to the nomination. She swept four primaries Tuesday and was the apparent winner in the fifth, padding her lead in delegates. She has 1,606 – including 1,139 pledged delegates – of the 2,383 needed, compared to 851 for Sanders, according to The Associated Press count.

But Clinton will need a good chunk of the 546 delegates awarded in California to win a majority of pledged delegates – a significant milestone to claim both grass-roots support and backing among elected officials and other “superdelegates.”

This apparently will be the most consequential primary in California since 2008, when it was held in February, the earliest in state history. Clinton beat Barack Obama, and John McCain won on the GOP side. Starting in 2012, the state combined the presidential vote with the state primary to save millions of dollars.

That came at a cost, however, in influence in presidential politics, especially since California is reliably Democratic in November. In 2016, it’ll be nice to see presidential candidates campaigning here often, dropping some cash and not just using the Golden State as a giant ATM.

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