Newsletter: Essential: Politics: California has big presidential primary dreams for 2020, ones unlikely to come true

Essential Politics

On paper and to its passionate voting advocates, California should play an important role — maybe even a determinative one — in the election of the president of the United States.

No state has more voters or electoral college ballots. Its diversity in thought, geography and industry mirror that of the nation. Having been governed by icons like Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown and scarred by political fights over taxes, illegal immigration and gay marriage, the state can rightly claim the nickname favored by Gov. Gavin Newsom: “America’s coming attraction.”

So will California finally get some R-E-S-P-E-C-T when its voters select presidential favorites in a statewide primary next March 3? (Spoiler alert: You know the odds, right?)

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If there’s ever a chance for California to muscle its way into the presidential sweepstakes spotlight, this would seem to be it. There has been chatter since November among Democratic and Republican political analysts alike that the state’s electorate has moved decidedly toward the left — an enticing draw for any Democrat seeking to challenge President Trump.

California’s own Sen. Kamala Harris is running — a politician who, as Mark Z. Barabak wrote, embodies the state in 2019 the way Reagan did in the 1970s and ’80s.

And the state has moved (again) its presidential primary up, this time to March 3, in hopes of forcing candidates to spend time talking to voters from Mendocino to Mendota and all across Southern California.


Now, the reality check and the two things that work against a California showdown on the road to the White House. First, money: A statewide campaign aimed at some 13 million voters (Democrats plus unaffiliated voters who are allowed to participate in the dominant party’s primary) will cost big bucks. Full-scale television advertising in the Golden State can easily cost $3 million a week.

Second, mechanics: Democrats divvy up their California nominating delegates under a complex system that makes it almost impossible for anyone to walk away as the big winner. For those who say that favors the kind of retail politicking of New Hampshire or Iowa, should we show you a map of how far-flung these California communities are?

As noted before, the only guaranteed effect of the early 2020 primary is a sprint by congressional and legislative hopefuls who have to start mobilizing before many have finished their first year in office. Even a few rumblings of the presidential campaign will be fun, but don’t get ready to brag too much to friends in the Midwest or East Coast. California’s likely to still be a supporting character, not an actor in a lead role.


The president begins the week after his summit in Vietnam with challenges from Democrats and his own party.

Over the weekend, a fourth GOP senator was poised to rebuke Trump’s national emergency declaration to build a new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the opposition by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would not be enough to deter the president from vetoing a bill to rescind the emergency action.

Democrats, meantime, appear poised to extend their congressional inquiries into Trump’s business activities and his 2016 presidential campaign.



-- Trump told an appreciative audience of conservatives Saturday that he will win reelection in 2020 by a bigger margin than his 2016 victory.

-- John Hickenlooper, a two-term Democratic former governor of Colorado, is officially announcing his presidential campaign on Monday as a quirky centrist.

-- A poster connecting a Muslim congresswoman to the 9/11 attacks led to heated emotions and the resignation of at least one legislative staff member in the West Virginia statehouse on Friday.


-- The California Department of Justice paid more than $1.1 million to settle claims with employees who alleged they were sexually harassed or retaliated against by co-workers during the tenure of Harris as state attorney general.

-- There was a time when California officials thought legal gambling would pay off big for government budgets. These days, revenues from casinos and the state lottery are a small percentage of the total take.

-- Gov. Newsom will have more than 3,000 executive appointments to critical state agencies and regulatory boards to further his political agenda, deliver promises he made during the campaign and reward supporters.

-- A proposal championed by Newsom to require new transparency standards for charter schools across California was passed by state legislators Thursday.


-- A little more than a year after raising California’s gas tax by 12 cents per gallon, state lawmakers are now considering a levy on oil production.

-- The number of criminals and mentally ill people who improperly own firearms in California has increased in the last year to more than 23,200, as a record number of people have been added to the list by the courts amid a surge of gun buying.

-- A state audit of immigration detention centers found almost all facilities detained people in cells for long periods of time without breaks, and immigrants faced language barriers and challenges in accessing medical and mental care and legal counsel.

-- California’s housing supply law has failed in its goal of spurring enough new home building to meet demand, especially for low-income residents, according to a new report from public policy think tank Next 10.

-- A state panel censured retired GOP Judge Steven Bailey for misconduct last week, citing the use of his judicial title and prestige of office to promote his unsuccessful campaign for California attorney general last year.


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