Now that California’s presidential primary has been moved from June to March, how might the state’s electorate influence the 2020 election, and how are the major parties engaging with voters? At a lunchtime event in Sacramento last week, PPIC president Mark Baldassare provided an overview of voter participation in California and KQED’s Marisa Lagos moderated a lively, wide-ranging discussion of the upcoming election season.
Lagos, who covers California politics and government for KQED, noted that California has long been a “piggy bank” for presidential candidates in both parties. She asked whether the earlier primary date will increase the state’s influence. “Guess what? You’re still the piggy bank!” joked Tamara Keith, White House correspondent for National Public Radio.
More seriously, Keith noted that it isn’t clear whether “California will come into the process soon enough to make a difference or whether things will have started settling out after Iowa and New Hampshire.” She added that because it takes weeks for the state to count its absentee ballots, “there’s a chance that the race will have already advanced a lot by the time California’s results are fully in.”
Rusty Hicks, chair of the California Democratic Party, said that the earlier primary date offers opportunities for presidential candidates to engage voters across the state. “You have top-tier candidates going to the northern rural parts of the state. They’re going to the Central Valley, they’re going to the Inland Empire.” In his view, this is “a real opportunity to showcase the state . . . it’s more than the Bay Area and Los Angeles.”
From the Republican perspective, the early presidential primary doesn’t make a big difference. But Jessica Patterson, chair of the California Republican Party, sees opportunities on the state level. “We have the opportunity to change the entire makeup of the building across the street.” The party is focused on “making sure we’re engaged in communities . . . to talk about the things that are important to them, and really focus on fixing our state.”
While their perspectives differed in many ways, both Patterson and Hicks stressed the importance of working together to empower and represent all Californians. “I think we all have an interest in ensuring that we have an engaged and empowered electorate,” said Hicks. Patterson agreed, adding that “it’s better for all of us when we find ways that we can work together.”