Bill Whalen

What to watch for in state’s June 7 primary

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally at UC Davis on Wednesday night.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally at UC Davis on Wednesday night.

I’m done with bad predictions in this election. A year ago, I’d have told you Donald Duck stood a better chance than Donald Trump and that Colonel Sanders was more viable than Bernie Sanders.

So here goes with a few laundry items for after Tuesday’s California primary.

The system “Berning” Sanders. If he fails to topple Hillary Clinton, Sanders could have one legitimate complaint – confused voters.

We can expect Sanders to best Clinton among unaffiliated voters (in a Hoover Institution poll, he held a 40-percentage-point lead among them), and he’ll score big with the under-30 crowd. But how many would-be Bernie supporters failed to change their registration to Democrat, or at least ask for Democratic ballots by the May 23 deadline?

California is between a rock and a hard place. Low-attention voters don’t treat democracy with the same diligence they afford their credit scores or Twitter feeds, but a state government that should invest more in voter education and voting intricacies pleads poverty.

The situation may only get worse in 2018, when same-day registration will be in effect. If voters don’t wise up, then Sacramento has to rise up and deal with the misinformation void.

The Republican firewall. A month ago, the idea of a closed Republican primary delighted the #nevertrump crowd.

But with the GOP contest settled well before Tuesday, there’s a question of just how practical it is for a shrinking party to exclude outsiders from its presidential contest.

We know that California’s GOP, with a scant share of the state’s electorate (28 percent and declining) is destined for third-party status unless it reverses that migration. Why not put out the welcome mat in the presidential primary, in this case letting independents vote for (or against) Trump?

It’s common sense: If you want more members, offer trial memberships.

Advance the primary. Yes, California was relevant in 2016 in the Democratic presidential contest. Despite all the anticipation for a full-blown political spectacle, it was the same story: Charlie Brown ended up flat on his back.

The easiest way to make California a player in 2020 is to advance the presidential primary – say, to the same first Tuesday in February as it was in 2008, if that’s possible without starting a war with Iowa, New Hampshire and the other early voting states.

But assuming Hillary Clinton occupies the White House, what are the odds of a Democratic-controlled Legislature and a Democratic governor earmarking state money for the sole purpose of making California more relevant to Republicans?

If Clinton loses to Trump, maybe the Democratic powers that be will feel a sense of urgency on 2020. Otherwise, this is a 2024 proposition at best.

Wither the open primary? This is the third time California’s “top-two” system is in effect for the June primary.

If you slept through the previous two votes, you weren’t alone, judging by the poor turnouts.

But 2016 is different. The U.S. Senate primary could advance two Democrats for the general election. That would be a historic first.

How will Californians react? Per Hoover’s poll, nearly half of voters would keep the current system even if it produces two candidates from the same party, while 37 percent would ditch it. If the yield were two Republicans, only 38 percent would still be on board.

So buck up, fellow Californians. The primary’s almost here and Charlie Brown didn’t completely whiff – although the football has less air than it did a month ago.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at