The Buzz is the Register’s weekly political news column.
The elections bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday moves California’s primary from June to March, an effort to give the state more influence in determining the presidential nominees — and make the candidates pay more attention to the state’s interests and priorities.
But reality doesn’t always conform to the script.
The state ran early presidential primaries from 1996 to 2008 with no conclusive impact on the eventual nominees.
On Feb. 5, 2008, California voters favored Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama only to watch Obama gain momentum before securing the nomination on June 3. In that case, a May primary in California could have been more influential. The early primary also raised the question of whether state voters might have preferred Obama by May or June.
Despite having a June 7 primary last year, California came close to playing a decisive role in the Democratic nomination. With Bernie Sanders gaining ground, Clinton didn’t secure the necessary delegates until June 6. Both candidates spent considerable time in the state leading up to the primary, including two Orange County rallies by each in the final two weeks.
“With a March date, we lose the opportunity to be the last big hope for a campaign,” Political Data Inc. analyst Paul Mitchell wrote in Capitol Weekly. “But we do get in as the biggest prize in the building of campaign momentum.”
California’s move makes it the 12th state scheduled to hold its primary on March 3, 2020 — Super Tuesday — but it represents a disproportionately large 30 percent of all delegates to be awarded that day, by Mitchell’s calculation. Meanwhile, the state’s move might prompt others to move up their primary dates too. That’s happened in previous cycles and Oregon and Washington are among the states considering a move for 2020, changes that could dilute California’s importance.
And while California’s 415 delegates are by far the most of any state, that’s a loss of 70 special delegates it was previously awarded by the Democratic National Committee in exchange for moving its primary back to June.
The move by California is driven in part by envy of the huge attention given the small states that are the first to award delegates. Pre-Super Tuesday states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — have a total population of less than that of Los Angeles and Orange counties combined, yet each is…