Tangled politicking marks push for early presidential primary

The push for an early presidential primary in California next year faces opposition on two fronts: from national party leaders who are considering whether to punish the state and from some in California who believe it is part of a plot to lengthen lawmakers’ terms and redraw political districts.

Regardless of the date of the primary, California’s role as the cash cow of presidential elections is assured. The head of the Federal Elections Commission predicted that the 2008 presidential race will be the “$1 billion election,” and that serious candidates will need to raise $100 million by the end of this year to even compete. Much of that money will come from California, Democrats and Republicans agree, and the candidates’ allies in the Legislature likely will lead the way. With the campaigns still in flux, those allies have not yet stepped forward.

“If we keep our presidential primary in June, then every candidate will come out here to do the maximum fundraising and the minimum campaigning. They will get money, and then they will go spend it on ad time in North Carolina or South Carolina or Iowa,” said state GOP spokesman Patrick Dorinson. “If they want our money, let them explain to us why they want it.”

“There is no doubt that moving up the primary does have the effect of generating a lot of buzz in our communities. Having to spend time in California is positive. It allows us to have a tremendous impact on the election,” said state Democratic Party spokesman Roger Salazar, a veteran of national political campaigns. “I think they would come out here anyway to do fundraising.”

Not everyone is enthralled with an early primary.

“It’s a terrible idea,” said Tony Quinn, a political historian and co-author of the Target Book, which analyzes legislative races. He noted that California has moved up its presidential primary on three occasions–1996, 2000 and 2004–and each time the expected droves of presidential contenders did not materialize. “It failed and nobody came to California, and nobody paid attention to California. We nominated a bunch of [state] candidates who had to wait around eight months for the general election,” Quinn said.

He added that other states likely would move up their own primaries. “In the last dozen years, both parties’ nominations have been decided by Super Tuesday, and with this we would just be making February 5th a ‘Super Tuesday.’ There will be a rope line of states demanding attention, but California will not be a player because we are too expensive. Candidates will focus on states where they can focus on retail politics.”

Perhaps the most drama in recent California presidential campaigning was in 2000, when Arizona senator John McCain said he had to win the state in order to win the nomination. That year, Bush won California.

The Democratic National Committee will decide next month whether to punish California if the state decides to go to a February 5 primary. In Sacramento, a pair of bills authored by an Assembly Republican George Plescia (AB 157) and Democratic Senator Ron Calderon (SB 113) would do just that, with two-thirds votes of the Legislature and the governor’s signature. The primary elections for Assembly and Senate candidates would remain in June. There is no U.S. Senate race in California next year. The primary itself–the voter-information pamphlet, ballot costs and the election-labor tab–could top $90 million, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report.

Under the DNC formula, if California keeps its June 3, 2008, primary date, the state’s Democratic delegation will get 97 additional, or “bonus,” delegates to the party’s national nominating convention. If California moves to February 5, the state keeps its current 443 delegates. Four other states will have caucuses or primaries before February 5–Iowa on January 14, Nevada on January 19, New Hampshire on January 22 and South Carolina on January 29.

Former Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte was not impressed by the DNC plan.

“I would rather have fewer numbers of delegates that actually get to make a difference than a large number of delegates who are picked long after the nominee is chosen,” he said. Unlike the winner-take-all system of Democrats, he added, Republican delegates are chosen proportionally according to the candidates’ showings in congressional districts.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed legislation in 2004 to move the primary back to June, is leaning toward moving it to February. Senate Leader Don Perata and Assembly Speaker Fabian N

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