When it comes to selecting presidential candidates, California
been big, but not very important. Its huge number of delegates were
awarded so late in the game, they tended to ratify rather than
influence the outcome.
Yet eight months before Iowans start the nomination process, the
Golden State is thick with candidates: Bill Bradley is in the middle
of a 10-day visit that should conclude as Democratic opponent Al
comes calling later this week, both of which precede the end-of-
trip by Republican George W. Bush.
All of which shows that the nation's presidential nomination
process is beginning to bend to the weight of California.
Specifically, a much earlier primary, an "open" voting system, and
the costly media-heavy campaigning needed to do well here are all
combining to influence the nature of the 2000 election, say a range
of political analysts.
Some of the changes are obvious. For instance, California's March
7 primary, weeks earlier than it used to be, forces candidates to
Other changes are consistent with the evolution of presidential
politics. Campaign spending, already rising, gets a further boot
upward given the demands in California. And the earlier, more
compressed nomination process means candidates must move faster to a
broader, wholesale message that will resonate in this diverse state,
as well as in New England, Southern, and Midwestern states also
voting March 7.
But one of the most intriguing changes may be how to calibrate a
campaign for California, whose voters for the first time in a
presidential primary will be allowed to vote for whomever they
choose, regardless of party affiliation.
Candidates will continue to receive delegates based only on voters
registered with their party. But the so-called "beauty contest"
aspect of the California primary, given the size and diversity of
state, could well make this primary more of a mini-general election
than a nomination choice. In other words, the outcome of the overall
tally, not just who won each party's nomination, could be an
unusually revealing indicator of what may come in November.
"The beauty contest portion of the California primary will
simulate a national election more than any other state has in the
past because, to win, a candidate will have to demonstrate true
national reach to win everything from ... Central Valley to Silicon
Valley," says Phil Trounstine, communications director for Gov. Gray
Tony Quinn, Republican analyst and political demographer in
Sacramento, agrees: "This state is so huge that what'll be important
is the open vote tally, rather than just the party delegate count. …