California’s legislature passed a bill early Saturday morning to move California’s primary to March in an effort to make California more relevant in the presidential primary.
This bill (SB 568) would put California’s primary before the spring, most likely causing it to fall so-called “Super Tuesday,” when roughly a dozen other states hold their primary — following the early primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and several other states.
SB 568 passed mostly along party lines in both houses, largely driven by Democrat anti-Trump sentiment and is now on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, where its fate is anything but certain.
The Los Angeles Times notes that
[p]ersuading Brown to sign the bill might not be easy. In 2011, the governor signed legislation that permanently moved all primary elections — for presidential and state contests — back to early June, citing a lack of success at generating presidential interest and due to the high cost of holding separate primaries for president and statewide races. [original link]
If signed into law, this bill — unlike past efforts to make California competitive in the early primaries—would move the presidential primary and all other primaries — legislative, statewide and congressional — to the Tuesday after the first Monday in March.
That might partially address Brown’s concerns about increased cost, since all other California primaries are governed by the “top two” or “jungle” primary, which can be handled on a single ballot. The presidential primary still requires partisan ballots to be distributed under party rules, and those costs add up, especially in a state of 38 million people.
PBS News Hour notes that an early primary would give a clear advantage to establishment candidates like a Jeb Bush or a Hillary Clinton, who can raise and spend massive amounts of money early to be competitive in California’s 11 media markets:
“The cost of playing in California versus playing in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina is incredibly different,” said Mike Biundo, Republican Rick Santorum’s 2012 campaign manager who later worked for Kasich and Trump. “A Jeb Bush or a Hillary Clinton, I think, have the advantage if California is earlier.”
…And it doesn’t ensure the political relevance that California lawmakers crave. The last time California voted early — in February 2008 — the state backed Clinton, but Barack Obama went on to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency.
California’s last truly relevant presidential primary was perhaps in 1972, when George McGovern defeated Hubert Humphrey on McGovern’s way to winning the Democratic nomination.
Brown has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto the bill. If he does neither, it automatically becomes law.