California Considers Moving Primary to February California is thinking about moving its June presidential primary to Feb. 5, so that voters in the Golden State will have more say in picking the nominees. The national impact could be enormous. But critics say it could result in a candidate that hasn't really been tested.
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California Considers Moving Primary to February

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California Considers Moving Primary to February

California Considers Moving Primary to February

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Now, off to the other side of the country. To California, where they have a distinctly different view of this whole issue. By the time that state's primary rolls around in June, the presidential nomination is usually wrapped-up.

NPR's Ina Jaffe reports that California wants to move the primary election up to February 5th. The hope is that candidates will think of the state as something more than an ATM to fund their campaigns.

INA JAFFE: Steven Spielberg and his DreamWorks partners, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, are having a party in Beverly Hills next month for 700 of their closest friends. It's actually a fundraiser for Barack Obama. I'm not invited. I'm also not invited to another Beverly Hills bash for Hillary Clinton in March. I'm not even invited to the Rudy Giuliani fundraiser in Fresno. There may be 16 million voters in the state, but in the run-up to primary season, the ones who aren't rich are just a bunch of nobodies.

Even California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who can go to any party he wants, told the Sacramento Press Club this has got to change.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): I mean, all those guys come out here and they clean up and they take the money and they run - millions and millions and millions of dollars, both parties. But we have no, we are no part of the decision making.

JAFFE: Not for lack of trying. In 1996, the California primary was moved from its traditional June date to late March, recalls political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.

Ms. SHERRY BEBITCH JEFFE (University of Southern Carolina): And almost immediately, everybody else started moving their primaries up. Well, once again, the nomination was decided before the process ever got to California.

JAFFE: So four years later, California moved its primary up to the beginning of March.

Ms. JEFFE: Guess what? By the time it got around to the first week in March, the nomination had been decided.

JAFFE: So February 5th is the earliest possible primary date under Democratic Party rules. And making the change is virtually a done deal, says State Senate Leader Don Perata.

Senator DON PERATA (Democrat, California): We shouldn't let New Hampshire and Iowa steal the stage. Let's make California worth something.

JAFFE: This isn't entirely about the national stage, however. Remember that saying all politics is local? Well, it's likely that in February next year, California voters will not only see the names of Presidential contenders on the ballot, but also a measure to ease California's strict term limits on state office holders, like Senate leader Don Perata.

Senator PERATA: The narrow term limits that we have right now, six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate, simply are not sufficient to do the job that needs to get done.

JAFFE: And timing is everything. If the term limits measure passes, lawmakers who might have been termed out next year could run again.

Senator PERALTA: The skeptics say this is really the reason why we're moving up the primary.

JAFFE: Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, for example.

Ms. JEFFE: The deal on term limits is the reason that this proposal to move up the primary has any chance at all.

JAFFE: Of course, presidential candidates don't care about any of this. If or when California moves its primary to the first week in February, their campaigns will become much more complicated, says Democratic campaign consultant Bill Carrick.

Mr. BILL CARRICK (Democratic Consultant): The biggest decision is how much time and money are you going to spend in California as opposed to the early states? Is it - you need the momentum that is generated by the early states to roll in the California to be successful.

JAFFE: But that's going to cause dues, says Carrick.

Mr. CARRICK: California is the opposite of Iowa and New Hampshire. It's not a retail state where you can meet people one on one or in small groups. You got to meet them en masse, which usually means television and radio communications, paid advertising and, you know, that's very costly here, it's such an enormous state.

JAFFE: California may not have February 5th all to itself, however. A few other large states are also thinking of moving up their primary dates. So California voters may have to share the spotlight, but they'll be content to know that the presidential candidates don't just love them for their money.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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