Wednesday, January 9, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- California, Early Voting, and the 2020 Rules

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

As 2018 came to a close a second wave of folks seemed to be getting in their two cents about the impact of the three month shift of the California presidential primary on the 2020 calendar.1

And it is not a move that is without import. While California pairing with Texas (among others) on Super Tuesday is a new wrinkle for 2020, frontloaded primary calendars with California on the heels of the earliest states are not. California was part of the logjam on the first Tuesday in March in 2000, and similarly just a month behind Iowa kicking things off on the 2008 calendar.

Of course, the dynamics of each of those races were different. Each cycle is always different in some way from its predecessors.2 The 2000 cycle saw fields of candidates on both sides that were comparatively small. And in 2008, California was early on a de facto national primary date, but other states -- Florida and Michigan -- sought to push even more directly into the early calendar territory Iowa and New Hampshire.

But maybe 2020 is when the stars align for a California primary move to be of consequence. Perhaps, but 2019 has already witnessed no lack of 2020 candidate maneuvering. And the attention, at least to this point, seems to be in the usual directions: toward the earliest states.

Yes, there is still time for that to change.

In fact, the increase in early voting in the Golden state and the stretch of that window of convenience voting to a point on the calendar in line with the caucuses in Iowa may be enough to alter the equation. It is that reality that has driven much of the renewed discourse about the California primary and 2020.

Some have argued that the implications of the California primary move coupled with that Iowa-aligned early voting start means that the Golden state cannot be ignored. If that is even partly true, then it will likely serve as an extension of the frontloaded calendars cited above. To be successful, candidates have to have the resources to plan for a crowded Super Tuesday, and in 2020, an early vote GOTV effort in the state. Both have winnowing possibilities layered into them.

Still others have made the case that a largely unwinnowed, or lightly winnowed, field entering into a month-long California primary voting window may lead to a fractious split of a large cache of delegates, raising the likelihood of an inconclusive outcome to primary season.

FHQ would submit another scenario altogether, a rather counterintuitive one.

Those rooting most heavily for a still crowded field by the time California rolls around in 2020 are those with some nominal frontrunner status, those with some experience winning statewide in the Golden state, or those with some combination of the two. The more crowded it is, the less likely it is that some number of candidates clears the 15 percent threshold to qualify for delegates in (each of the 55 races for delegates in) California.3

The fewer candidates that crest above 15 percent, the greater the delegate prize California would be to those who do. Bear in mind that, despite the fact that winnowing was slow in 2016 in a crowded Republican nomination race, no primary or caucus saw any more than three candidates receive 15 percent or more of the vote.

And hey, if it is crowded enough in the California results, then California could become a very big prize indeed. If early voting is great enough and distributes the votes in a way that only one candidate clears that threshold (in all 55 jurisdictions), then California becomes a winner-take-all affair.

Advantage: winner.

But it is early yet and the winnowing has only really just begun.


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Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Sanders is heading to the Palmetto state to speak at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Rally.

2. Later this month Bloomberg will be in Virginia to speak to the Democratic Business Council. This one is more preaching to the choir than broadening any likely coalition of the former New York mayor's.

3. In Iowa today, Steyer is going to announce something. What can one announce in the Hawkeye state?

4. Speaking of announcements, Castro is building up to his own later this week. Yesterday he was in Iowa pledging to shun PAC money and in Nevada reaching out to the Latino community.

5. Meanwhile, Draft Beto stretches into Nevada and California with new hires in an attempt to pull the former Texas congressman into the 2020 race.

6. Finally, Harris has an entry for the 2020 Book Primary.


Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

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1 Second wave because there was an initial round back in 2017 when the California legislature pushed the presidential primary in the Golden state up.

2 That is the reason that even small rules changes can yield large impacts (or alternatively, be amplified by differing dynamics).

3 There will be 55 contests for delegates nestled in the broader California primary. Allocations of at-large and party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates will be based on the statewide results, while the results in each of the 53 congressional districts will determine how the varying numbers of congressional district delegates will be allocated.

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