Stop that nonsense. Moving up to the California primaries was a dumb idea. Push it back

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Stop that nonsense. Moving up to the California primaries was a dumb idea. Push it back

California politics, elections 2024, homepage news

George Skelton

March 4, 2024

California’s early primaries need to change. March 5 is too late to influence presidential races and far too early for non-presidential contests.

In fact, the entire presidential nomination process starts way too early with a hyped caucus and primaries in the lackluster states of Iowa and New Hampshire, which were duds this year.

After all the votes are counted in the premature Super Tuesday juggernaut in 15 states, including attention-starved California, there will be no semblance of a nominating contest in either party with several months to go.


and Republican national conventions.

President Biden and Donald Trump will have all but blocked their nominations, a November showdown that inspires almost no one.

Admittedly, this is a unique election year.

There is an 81-year-old president in power who should not be doing that. It’s not that Biden is too old to do the job. Rather, millions of people think he is. Many may withhold their votes in November, anointing the despicable Trump.

Trump has legions of admirers despite being the saddest poor loser in American history, a man who tried to overturn a fair election even by motivating a deadly sack of the Capitol. Not to mention that he is a habitual liar who was convicted of committing financial fraud and charged with 91 crimes. And that’s the short list.

A postponed nomination process would have given Biden more time to consider whether to step down and become the bridge to the next generation he promised four years ago.

And later primaries would have provided additional time for the dirt on Trump’s head, giving Republican voters a chance to come to their senses.

Okay, maybe that’s fantasy. But California’s early primaries are a nightmare.

We need to return to our traditional, comfortable June primaries, at least for congressional and state races.

According to California’s latest concoction, primaries will also take place in early March in non-presidential years such as 2026, when a new governor will be elected. There will be elections for all statewide offices and, like this year, for seats in the House and Congress.

That means there will be eight months between the primaries and the November showdowns, far too long for general election campaigns. And the primary period is too short.

If only candidates in down-ticket races had more time [in the primary] to develop messaging, it would help voters get a clearer picture, said Marty Wilson, chief political strategist for the California Chamber of Commerce. He favors a return to the June primaries.

Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio calls that argument a load of nonsense. If you want to know what’s going on, you have plenty of time.

But most voters have other things on their minds. It seems like just yesterday that they tore down the Christmas tree. Now they’re worried about income tax returns due next month.

With an early primary, congressional and legislative candidates must start campaigning after Halloween.

Voters celebrate during the holiday season. They’re not very open to being hit over the head with campaign ads, says Democratic strategist Garry South.

Some background information for context:

Before World War II, California had a sensitive system of two primaries: a presidential primary in May and a state primary in late August. But during the war we switched to a consolidated primary because it was too difficult to send ballots to troops around the world. This quickly became the traditional June primary that lasted for five decades.

It worked fine. California even occasionally exerted presidential influence when the races started later.

In June 1964, Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination in a historic primary that permanently changed the California Republican Party from centrist to conservative. In June 1972, George McGovern captured the Democratic nomination by winning the hotly contested California primary.

But then the parties, especially the Democrats, welcomed the reforms and threw out California’s winner-take-all primaries, devaluing their importance. The delegates to the Convention were distributed in principle in proportion to the votes of the candidates. So there was less incentive for candidates to run very expensive, all-out campaigns here if they didn’t get the whole bundle, the largest pool of delegates in the country.

The Republican Party, which bows to front-runner Trump, has returned to a winner-take-all primary this year. A candidate who wins more than 50% of the vote collects all 169 delegates. That has made the California primaries less interesting than they could have been, as Trump is expected to suck it up without any real opposition.

Democrats have stuck with their complicated delegate allocation system, while Democratic strategist Bill Carrick believes they should return to the winner-takes-all principle.

It would be more attractive to candidates and make the state more influential, Carrick says.

Desperate for influence and jealous of the peewee states that have it, California has tried several early grassroots programs since 1996. At first I welcomed the idea. Now I’m freaking out. The coveted power has remained elusive.

California gets involved in Super Tuesday and we become nothing more than a non-entity, says political analyst Tony Quinn. Two primaries make the most sense.

That’s the logical system: an early presidential primary on a Super Tuesday in April or May and a June primary for state races.

Democrats say two primaries would cost too much. But they never object to the expenses they like. What Democrats are really concerned about is low voter turnover in June during non-presidential years. Low turnouts generally hurt Democrats.

Okay, so let’s move the whole thing back to June. March is bad for a state election.


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