California's presidential primary wasn't always anticlimactic

 California's presidential primary wasn't always anticlimactic
Sen. Eugene McCarthy campaigns in Los Angeles in May 1968. He lost the California Democratic presidential primary to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated hours later. (Associated Press)

California's presidential primary has historically generated little excitement. But there have been a few exceptions:

Clinton vs. Obama


Year: 2008

Scenario: California moved its primary up to February from June, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were still slugging it out for the Democratic nomination.

The mood: "To California political activists who have labored for years under the mantra that the state doesn't matter in the presidential primaries, 2008 has been the campaign that brought back wonderment," The Times wrote at the time. "For years the primary was in June, a placement so late that not since the Nixon administration had results from California had any bearing on the nominations. A move into March was checkmated by other states, which leapfrogged ahead to cast deciding votes. The same appeared to be the case this year, when about two dozen states joined the Feb. 5 bandwagon. Yet while that certainly means that California will not have the deciding role Tuesday, the state has at least been part of the action."

Results: Clinton won.

Final outcome: Obama secured the Democratic nomination and was elected president.

Kennedy vs. McCarthy

Year: 1968

Scenario: President Lyndon Johnson decided not to seek another term in office. His vice president, Hubert Humphrey, was running to replace him. But the main attractions during the California Democratic primary were the two upstart progressive contenders: Sens. Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy.

The mood: Kennedy's barnstorming campaign across California is now the stuff of political legend. Kennedy had just lost the Oregon primary to McCarthy and called Los Angeles his "Resurrection City." He rode in a convertible in motorcades across L.A., including big rallies at the Farmers Market and other locations. Earlier in the year, he met with Cesar Chavez in the Central Valley. He also rallied black voters in South Los Angeles, speaking out about racism, economic injustice and police abuse. "He inspired us to believe," the late L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley told The Times more than a decade after the campaign. "That there was an opportunity to change this nation and to change the way we relate to each other."

Results: Kennedy won. He was assassinated early the next morning at the Ambassador Hotel.

Final outcome: The Democrats nominated Humphrey, who lost to California Republican Richard Nixon.