Dems should let GOP have early primary
It's only fair. Democrats ought to let California Republicans have a voice in picking their party's presidential candidate next year.
It really doesn't matter who the GOP might choose. No one expects Democrats to like or vote for that choice. But letting this state's millions of Republican voters have the same voice in their party's affairs that Democrats have enjoyed for more than the last decade is good for California. And denying them that voice could not only be bad for California, but would surely engender more of the inter-party rancor that handcuffs state government at critical junctures.
Here's what's happening: California law now sets the state's presidential primary in early February, the same time it was held in 2008. But new rules adopted by the national committees of both major parties say the soonest California may stage a primary that will count for anything is March 1. Failure to change the date would automatically disqualify half the state's delegates to both parties' national nominating conventions.
So there has to be a change, and a bill to switch the presidential primary date is now moving through the Legislature. But rather than choose a date in March, the current measure would consolidate both the presidential vote and the regular bi-annual state primary election on the first Tuesday of June 2012.
That may seem fine to Democrats, whose presidential nomination now appears likely to go almost automatically to incumbent President Barack Obama. This makes it irrelevant when Democrats vote.
But the timing of the vote by California Republicans could prove hyper-important. That's because this state will have about 20 percent of the national convention delegates needed to nominate a Republican for President next year and will probably give almost all its delegates to whoever wins the most votes here, under the GOP's winner-take-all-by-congressional-district system (in contrast to Democrats awarding delegates in direct proportion to the votes each candidate wins).
It's most likely that whoever wins California's GOP vote overall would take the vast majority of congressional districts, as John McCain did in 2008, when rival Mitt Romney won just three out of 53.
Such an enormous delegate haul - if it comes early in the process - can give California a lot of clout with Republican presidential prospects. Wrote Ron Nehring, immediate past chairman of the state Republican Party, "A legislator in a state with an early primary or caucus can get a call returned from any presidential candidate of his own party if he wants. If you're in the unlucky state that votes late, you'll be lucky if a junior intern returns the call - in 2013."
So an early primary is the best way to ensure that a possible next president knows something about California and its problems, from budgets to water or immigration to education. An early vote also assures candidates spend time and money here, at the same time it forces them to become familiar with the state. All those things can only be good for all Californians, Democrat and Republican.
These, of course, were the very arguments Democrats used in 2007 when they convinced Republican ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that he needed to sign their bill moving the 2008 primary up to early February. Schwarzenegger did it right away, with no GOP objections. It's simple fairness for Democrats to return the favor.
Here's one indication of how important the early date can be, when combined with the Republicans' modified winner-take-all system for awarding delegates:
Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary here three years ago, but got barely more than 50 percent of California's delegates to her party's nominating convention. Had she won almost all, there's a good chance she would be president today, rather than Obama.
For a huge boost in Clinton delegate numbers, like California gives its primary victor in the GOP's slightly modified winner-take-all system, would likely have discouraged Obama's backers. But hold the primary late, or last, and the chances are strong everything will have been decided before the state votes.
No late primary here after 1972 had the slightest effect on the nominations of either party until California moved its primaries up in the late 1990s. But when California went for McCain last time, it cinched the nomination for him.
Democrats setting the presidential primary back to June say they want to ensure the state holds just two statewide elections next year, rather than the three staged in 2008. So, yes, it makes some fiscal sense to consolidate.
But when all primary voting was consolidated into March in prior presidential years, state candidates still managed to file in plenty of time and nothing was seriously disrupted. Not even the confusion and legal wrangling likely to follow the August release of California's new redistricting plan should change that.
All of which makes the Democrats' move toward taking California Republicans out of any position of influence in their national party look mostly vindictive.