California Legislature Approves Earlier 2020 Primary; Awaits Gov. Signature

September 16, 2017

Seeking a more active role for the state in choosing the next Democratic presidential nominee, The California Legislature has approved a bill to move the presidential primary from June 2nd to March 3rd in 2020. The bill has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. 

The state controlled over 11% of Democratic delegates in 2016, but Hillary Clinton was already the presumptive nominee by the time the state voted that year. If the move becomes law and assuming the same roster of Super Tuesday states - and delegate distribution - in 2020, approximately 1/3 of all delegates will be awarded that day, up from about 20% in 2016. 

This is not the first time California has moved up its primary.  According to Politico: "In 2008, the state tried to change that by holding a February primary. But more than 20 other states also moved up their contests in response, and while California drew a competitive race, the outcome was not decisive — Hillary Clinton won the primary here but lost the nomination." If something similar happens in 2020, it could mean a much shorter primary season than 2016, despite the likelihood of a much larger Democratic field.

The real beneficiaries of the move might be the prospective 2020 Democratic candidates from the state.  These include Sen. Kamala Harris, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and the aforementioned Gov. Brown. (The latter will be leaving office in 2018 and will be age 82 in 2020, so he seems less likely to run than the other two). Any of these individuals would start with good name recognition in the state, meaning less introductory-type advertising in the state's expensive media markets. They would also be well-known to the large number of wealthy Democratic donors in the state.

The state's Republican primary will also be moved up. As New York Magazine noted: "The change would affect the Republican as well as the Democratic presidential primary in 2020, which could spell trouble for any potential challenger to Donald Trump. The president is not very popular in California generally, but has a strong following among Republicans, and under current party rules, the GOP presidential primary in California is closed to independents."

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