Elias: California’s late presidential primaries unfair to state’s voters

Always before, when California was short-changed in the presidential primary election season, there was no one to blame but anonymous committees in the Democratic and Republican parties.

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No more. The 2024 California primary is currently scheduled next year for March 23 — most likely long after most of the important decisions have been made in smaller states. If this comes off as now planned, it will be yet another in a long series of letting the tail wag the dog, and there will be one man to blame: President Biden.

There’s little doubt that Biden’s choice of South Carolina to replace New Hampshire and Iowa as the earliest voters for presidential nominees was payback. Anyone who remembers the 2020 primary season will recall how the Democratic race began as a mishmash with no particular favorite, except that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders kept winning pluralities in early states though never by definitive margins.

Then came South Carolina, which voted Feb. 29, 2020, with a preponderance of African-Americans on the Democratic side. After the dean of that state’s Congressional delegation, the Black Democrat James Clyburn, strongly endorsed Biden, he won the state by a huge margin, and other candidates such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttegieg quickly endorsed him.

Essentially, that ended the primary season. By that time, then-California Sen. Kamala Harris had long since dropped out. Biden, who says he intends to run for re-election in 2024, would love to see an even quicker ending to meaningful primaries in his party next year. That, of course, would leave California essentially no voice in choosing the Democratic nominee, and maybe also the Republican. That’s not fair to California voters.

This state consistently provides Democratic presidential candidates with their national popular vote margin. It also provides two Democratic senators, without whom Democrats would be a Senate minority. This year there are 40 Democratic House members from California compared with just 12 Republicans. That was a net gain of one seat for the GOP, but without Californians, Democrats would be a hopeless minority in Congress, rather than almost even as they are today.

So California makes a more meaningful contribution to the Democratic Party than any other state, including 54 Electoral College votes, without which Republicans would have won every election since 1996. But Biden, who owes his November 2020 victory and his current job to California voters, gave complete preference to tiny South Carolina and its nine electoral votes. That’s just wrong.

Democrats have long excused their disregard for California by claiming the state’s campaign costs are too steep for many early candidates. Yes, it costs more to campaign in California than Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, but you also can win far more national convention delegates here. With a big win here, California could let a candidate virtually clinch the nomination every time.

Why shouldn’t the largest state have the biggest voice in picking nominees? It does the most to elect them later on. Biden completely ignored this in his December letter to the Democrats’ Rules and Bylaws committee, which then decided to let South Carolina vote first.

“We must ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee …,” Biden said. “For decades, Black voters have been the backbone of the party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process.”

So let South Carolina go first, he said. An early California vote would involve more Black voters than South Carolina, though, and exponentially more Latinos. So why push this state to the back, as both parties regularly do?

“There should … be strong representation from urban, suburban and rural America and every region of the country,” Biden added.

He used that reasoning to push South Carolina but leave California out, even though this state is as large as entire other regions. This makes no sense, and California legislators should not accept it passively. There is no solid reason for them to stick with the current March 23 date putting California at the back of the bus.

The bottom line: California has long deserved a much larger voice in presidential selection but likely once again will not get it.

Thomas Elias can be reached at [email protected] To read more of his columns, visit californiafocus.net online.