California has typically stayed out of the early primary dates in February or March, opting instead to stay near the end of the line, as they did in 2016 when the Golden State voted on June 7. Obviously, by the month of June in the election year, most candidates will have already dropped out of the primary and the nomination will have practically been decided. This left California primary voters rather unenthusiastic about bothering to vote since it wouldn’t mean much.
California, however, has decided to buck the trend in 2020 and will join the parade of states holding their primary voting on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. This date will become the “Super Tuesday” voting day since such a large number of states hold primaries on the same day.
CNN reports on the move by California to make their primary voting mean something:
This cycle, California has made waves by moving up its primary date from June to March — on Super Tuesday.
California’s June date meant that it was in a group of states that voted next-to-last in presidential primaries, followed only by Washington, DC. Now, California will get a slice of early-state action.
“Historically we’ve been so late in the primary schedule that the nominees for president have been determined by the time Californians go to the polls,” California secretary of state Alex Padilla told CNN. “By moving that up, we hope to have a real say in determining the nominees for president of all parties.”
Padilla has a point. California has the largest bloc of Electoral College votes, is the most diverse state in the nation, has an economy larger than many nations and, with its concentration of wealthy political activists, happens to fund a significant portion of these nationwide campaigns.
“By moving up our primary date, we hope to have a real say,” Padilla said.
I bet there’s another reason why California made such a move, and it may be to benefit a specific candidate. California Senate Kamala Harris is often on the short list of serious contenders, if not for President, but possibly Vice President, and this move could benefit her greatly by placing her home state earlier in the process.
The CNN story didn’t even pick up on the fact that Harris would benefit, but I think it’s fairly obvious since taking California’s boatload of delegates early in the primary would create different landscape compared to prior years. This assumes, of course, that Harris would do well there, and we don’t know whether that’s the case.
The real point, however, is that California will be more closely watched than any other state in March of 2020:
Despite the excitement of the new primary date, we don’t know what voting this early will look like in California. It may be hard to get a sense of how the state will vote until after the 2020 field winnows following the results of the first four states.
Joshua Putnam, a University of North Carolina-Wilmington professor and founder of the website Frontloading HQ, predicted that California voters may wait to make up their minds, “knowing that some of the candidates on the ballot may drop out of the race after dismal showings in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and/or South Carolina.”
But California’s new, earlier status — plus its extensive early voting process — could also change the race in other ways.
Each cycle there are states that try to buck the process and gain more clout by moving their primary dates earlier. Each year we see things typically settle back into a predictable pattern after the initial uproar. In this case, since California isn’t trying to up-end the four main early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, there is no issue with their decision to hold a primary March rather than June.
In many ways, the move makes sense, especially in a year when the Democratic primary will be the only game in town, and California is home to the largest number of registered Democrats in the country. Why not let a large state have some say in the process? There are counter-arguments to that, of course, that large states already have too much say, and letting smaller states go first gives them more of a voice instead of being drowned by the big guys.
You can keep tabs on the process at our 2020 Primary Schedule page.