Monday, March 12, 2007

California To Be Part Of 2008 "National Primary" Day

The decision to move up California's 2008 presidential primary by four months promises to make the most populous state something it hasn't been in decades -- a potent player in picking White House nominees.

For years the state has been a place candidates visited mostly for one thing -- money, sucked up in Hollywood or Silicon Valley. But with the primary about to move to Feb. 5, candidates are jostling for media attention, endorsements and donor checks with an intensity not seen in a generation.

In recent days Rudy Giuliani pumped hands in San Diego, John Edwards told Los Angeles students to "change America," John McCain shared a stage with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Hillary Rodham Clinton talked clean energy with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

"In the past, California has only been the state where politicians come and pick your pockets," Democratic contender Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor, said on a Los Angeles stop Wednesday.

"Now, California issues like protecting the environment, growth, traffic, water will be important," he predicted.

California's new clout is not assured. By rescheduling to Feb. 5 from June, California joins what McCain strategist John Weaver calls an emerging "national primary" -- a day when as many as 19 states could hold presidential contests.

The cluster of Feb. 5 states could eventually include New York, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey, diluting what could otherwise be the impact of a standalone contest. Still, it brings California's rich prize of delegates much closer to the front, where it most counts, and the candidates are reaching out for it.

You'd have to go back to 1972 to find a presidential primary with make-or-break drama in California, says political scientist John Pitney of California's Claremont McKenna College. That year, Democrat George McGovern defeated former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, tightening his grip on the Democratic nomination.

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