California yearns to be The Decider

A rally for Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders in Irvine, May 22. (Photo: mikeledray, via Shutterstock)

At long last, we were to be The Deciders.

After more than 50 years, Californians were going to pick the Republican nominee for president! Ted Cruz was vowing to make his last stand against Donald Trump right here, with his back against the Pacific! San Francisco Republicans would become objects of desire instead of an endangered species!  The utterances of we political writers would be accorded the deference they had always deserved! It was going to be very, very wonderful!

 Didn’t happen.

The accursed Hoosiers stole our thunder.  Thanks to that decisive win in Indiana,  Trump was the GOP nominee before the fight crossed the Sierra, capturing 1,239 of the 1,237 delegates he needed.

 As far as Republicans were concerned, California instantly became a great big backwater, as it had been in every GOP primary since 1964.

Political types, deprived of ugly rhetoric and Donald Trump, rendered their garments and issued piteous wails about What Might Have Been.

Television station owners who had anticipated a windfall of Republican political ads cancelled orders for new carpeting.  The threat of boredom blanketed the land.

Oh, sure, we still have our Triple-A campaigns with state Attorney General Kamala Harris facing fellow Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez and a trio of trailing Republicans for Barbara Boxer’s U. S. Senate seat.  But the glitter, pandering and vulgarity of today’s presidential campaigns would become remote images on TV, nothing more.  Sigh.

But wait.  That was then.  This is now. Maybe we’re going to be Deciders after all.  Well, sort of.

 Only this time, it’ll be Democrats.  Here we have Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders separated by as little as two percentage points (46-44, inside the margin of error, according to the Public Policy Institute of California) as we head for the June 7 California primary.  The last time California Democrats were critical to the nomination was 1972, when they picked George McGovern, who ultimately became the party’s nominee and then lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon.

National candidates are actually spending money here instead of using California as an ATM.  What could be sweeter?  Hillary and Bernie are suddenly pouring millions into California campaigning.  Hillary will get the nomination — it’s not really about that — but Bernie could seriously embarrass her here in the Golden State, and after that, who knows?

It’s pretty heady.  We Californians have long been accustomed to being bridesmaids, but never the bride.  Most of the time, we weren’t even bridesmaids.  We’re so darned Democratic, you see. The official registration figures tell the tale: About 44 percent Democrat, 28 percent Republican and 24 percent nonpartisan, with the rest scattered among minor parties. (It’s been a decade since a Republican  candidate has been elected to a constitutional  statewide office.)

The parties had chosen their nominees by the time California’s late primary came along. In the general, Republicans saw no point in wasting time and money on a state they had no hope of winning.  Democrats saw no point in it either, since they couldn’t lose.

But now –Whee! — we’re important again.  And this time, we’ll probably stay important until June 7. We have 475 delegates at stake on election day — 317 based on the vote in the congressional districts and another 158 apportioned on the statewide results. And there’s the superdelegates, 73 of them, many of whom are backing Hillary.

Sanders hopes he can grab enough of this 546-delegate haul to gain leverage when the Democrats meet this summer in Philadelphia at their national convention.

If the fight in California will be fierce, the mathematics are all Clinton.  She has 2,312 pledged delegates and superdelegates and needs a mere 71 more to reach the magic number 2,383 to win the nomination.  Sanders has 1,533 pledged delegates and superdelegates.  Delegates are awarded proportionally, so Clinton doesn’t need to win an overwhelming percentage of delegates to achieve her 71.

Of course, the chance remains that California could again become an afterthought.  New Jersey has its primary on June 7 as well, with 126 delegates at stake.  It’s possible Hillary will grab her 71 delegates there.  With the three-hour time difference, TV anchors may be announcing Hillary as the presumptive nominee even before the polls close in California.  The Real Clear Politics average of New Jersey polls has Hillary ahead of Bernie 55-38.

But before then, we’ll be in the national spotlight because of a real Democrat-vs.-Democrat political donnybrook.

But still: No Trump; no Cruz.  No over-the-top political flamboyance.

We coulda been contenders.

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