California moves up presidential primary
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California jolted the time-tested presidential primary schedule Thursday, moving up its 2008 contest to Feb. 5 and setting the stage for a potentially decisive one-day, mega-primary across the country.Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation moving the state into make-or-break prominence from its position as a June straggler in the presidential nominating process.”Now California is important again in presidential nominating politics … and we will get the respect that California deserves,” Schwarzenegger said during a bill-signing ceremony.California joins a handful of other states that have already scheduled Feb. 5 primaries. But 15 other states – including Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Texas – are considering moving their contests to the same day.Such a jam-packed early schedule presents a monumental challenge to candidates in a presidential contest that is already moving at warp speed.Many strategists in both political parties believe it also increases the significance of early successes in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – all of which will hold contests before Feb. 5.”To go to California, you are going to need a huge head of steam,” said Democratic political consultant Jenny Backus. “California moving up actually makes more attention go on the first lap. Even if you have all the money in the world, it will be hard to catch up to somebody who has racked up some victories in the first states.”Republican consultant Rich Galen said California would have a huge impact on the primary, but it’s multiplied by all the other populous states that are considering a move up to Feb. 5.”It means the living room and luncheonette phase of the campaign will be very short because campaigns need to conserve cash to buy TV time,” Galen said. “You’ve got to have enough money to be legitimate.”Galen said it’s too early to predict how voters will be served.”I don’t think it helps democracy, but it’s not clear to me that it hurts it,” Galen said.Strategically, a front-loaded schedule could regionalize the contest as well, forcing candidates to concentrate on different states.”Pressure will be on campaigns to figure out, OK, where do they play on Feb. 5 and where they are going to target, what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, what do they need to do to come up with a strategy?” said Bill Carrick, a California Democratic consultant and a veteran of presidential contests.A giant Feb. 5 also upends plans by the Democratic National Committee, which had carefully designed an early primary schedule that squeezed Nevada caucuses between Iowa’s Jan. 14 caucus and New Hampshire’s Jan. 22 primary and set South Carolina’s primary for Jan. 29.Party officials envisioned that the diversity of primary states could result in four regional candidates who then would fight their way through the remainder of the contests.Some strategists suggest that a super primary could help a well-financed candidate who stumbles in the early primaries – a possibility some call a firewall scenario.And some aren’t convinced that Feb. 5 could decide the nominations.”Does that mean that one person will come out of a national primary as the nominee? I am not sure that is the case,” National Republican Committee Chairman Michael Duncan said on C-SPAN on Sunday. “Does it affect the strategy of the candidates? Certainly, it affects the strategy of the candidates. … They have to raise a lot of money to be competitive. And they have to fight this war on many fronts.”The schedule shake-up is clearly not over. As the number of states planning Feb. 5 primaries grows, New Hampshire is also contemplating moving its primary up, possibly into December of this year.New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner was unavailable Thursday. His deputy said California’s move does not change New Hampshire’s plans.”At this point I think he’s just waiting to see how the landscape is shaping up,” said Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan. “He’ll do it his way.”California has not played a prominent role in a presidential primary since 1972, when George McGovern beat Hubert Humphrey for the Democratic nomination. Schwarzenegger is hoping that by moving the presidential primary from June to Feb. 5, the state will again play a significant role.Other states with Feb. 5 primaries are Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho (Democrats only), Missouri, and Utah. Also, New Mexico Democrats have set their presidential caucus for Feb. 5, and the West Virginia GOP plans to hold its state convention, which selects presidential candidates, on that date. Fifteen other states are considering that day for their primaries.The prospect of an early primary has already prompted presidential candidates to see California not simply as a repository for campaign donations. Several have already been to California, holding rallies and public meetings along with fundraisers.Republican candidates John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have appeared at Schwarzenegger’s side during campaign trips to California.Some state Republicans opposed moving up the primary, saying it would cost counties too much money to hold an extra election. But as he signed the bill, Schwarzenegger pledged to reimburse counties for the cost, which local officials estimate between $60 million and $90 million.—Jim Kuhnhenn reported from Washington.
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