To give you an idea of the outsized influence California will have on the 2020 Democratic primary, consider the fact that more than half of the vast Democratic field devoted some time to the Golden State over the weekend. Taking turns speaking at the 2019 California Democratic Party Convention, each candidate lined up their issues, delivered their campaign platforms, and made an appeal to Democratic voters in a state which will award almost 500 delegates (416 pledged, 79 super) on Super Tuesday in early March of 2020.
The significance in 2020 is that for the first time in years, California has decided to move up its primary date to be part of the first big wave of states voting in March of 2020, rather than the traditional May or June slot the state previously held. This has created a situation, for candidates, where they must devote some time to the sprawling state and its literal treasure trove of delegates.
The New York Times offers some reporting on the California Democratic Party Convention and the measures each candidate is going to in an attempt to lock-in support from voters and party activists:
Senator Elizabeth Warren bounded onto stage before a crowd of more than 6,000 here — “the biggest one so far,” she announced excitedly — and stayed for nearly two extra hours, past 11 p.m., until everyone who wanted a picture with her had gotten one.
At the same time on Friday night, across the bay in San Francisco, Beto O’Rourke and Senator Amy Klobuchar were pressing their cases and posing for selfies at a crowded meeting of the Latino caucus of the California Democratic Party. Not far away, Jane Sanders, the wife of Senator Bernie Sanders, made a surprise stop at a Chinese food dinner of self-described “Berniecrats.”
The next morning, Mr. Sanders and Senator Kamala Harris bumped into each other backstage at a labor breakfast, as more than a dozen candidates crisscrossed San Francisco’s streets for dueling speeches at the state party convention and another nearby progressive gathering.
Every candidate is grappling with how to compete in such a vast state. The tradition in Iowa, for example, is to visit all 99 counties which can typically be done mostly by bus from town to town. However, the size of Calfornia means it’s impossible for campaigns to visit every corner of the state. Furthermore, expensive media markets mean that advertising dollars to hit various major cities will cost a small fortune, and most of the candidates who would need the advertising don’t have the cash to pay for it.
As a result, California will play one of two roles in the 2020 Democratic primary.
1. Follower – It could take a cue from winners in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, and essentially “crown” a nominee. If Someone like Biden were to sweep the early states, and then win in California on Super Tuesday, that would likely create a situation where most other candidates would decide that it wasn’t worth competing any further.
2. Renegade – On the other hand, California could upend the early states and decide to crown its own winner. Maybe Bernie Sanders wins Iowa, then Biden eeks out victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina. California may decide that their hometown candidate, perhaps California Senator Kamala Harris, is still viable, and voters turn out in force to give her a majority of the vote. In that case, California could serve to prolong the primary process for Democrats by closing the gap in delegates awarded from other early states.
Biden skips California for an event in Ohio
There was one notable name missing from the California Democratic Party Convention, and that was former vice president Joe Biden, who spent time in Ohio at a human rights dinner instead. With a decision to pass on the crowded California convention, Biden set himself up for delivering his now signature direct attacks on Donald Trump, as Cincinnati.com reports:
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden says President Donald Trump is setting a poor example for the world on human rights and protecting LGBTQ individuals.
“This White House is literally a bully pulpit,” Biden told a group of about 700 people Saturday at a fundraising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization.
“It’s callously extending its power over the most vulnerable, implementing discriminatory policies like Muslim bans, turning away asylum seekers, putting children in cages,” Biden said. “And the current vice president uses religious freedom as an excuse to license discrimination.”
The Times story noted, referenced above, points out that at least one candidate specifically called out Biden for skipping the California event in favor of speaking in Ohio:
In his speech Sunday, Mr. Sanders took a not-so-veiled shot at Mr. Biden for skipping the convention. “There is a debate among presidential candidates who have spoken to you here in this room, and those who have chosen — for whatever reason — not to be in this room,” he said, before contrasting his left-wing vision with that of more moderate Democrats like the former vice president.
In other words, Bernie is implying that Biden is a little too moderate for progressive activists in California and perhaps that’s why he skipped the event. To an extent, Bernie is right, Biden doesn’t fit the modern progressive mold and not many deep-rooted Democrats are thrilled at the prospect of a Democratic Party establishment figure within such close striking distance of the 2020 nomination.
However, for Biden, that’s almost immaterial because his course is being charted for much broader appeal across the party and to moderate voters, a sliver of the electorate where his advisors, no doubt, believe the election will truly be decided.
In between their fundraising please to score a debate slot in June and July, watch for more and more candidates to make numerous trips to California to bolster their Super Tuesday chances in 2020.