Even though many Americans are still recovering from the last presidential election, maneuvering has already begun for the 2020 election with California moving its primary from June to March to have greater influence on who is nominated. Oregon may follow suit.
Senator Ricardo Lara, the Democrat who carried the legislation that Governor Brown signed into law, said, “The intent of the bill was to put our voters at the front seat in choosing the next president and helping us drive a different agenda at the national level.”
In other words, California kingmakers are tired of Iowa, New Hampshire and a ring of southern states creating unstoppable presidential bids that may not reflect West Coast or progressive values. Oregon may catch the same fever and shift its primary forward from May to March to get some of the overlapping love from candidates attracting votes in California.
At present, Oregon is mostly a tarmac for presidential fundraising. Candidates dart into town, attend a couple of fundraisers and leave. They don’t even bother for media interviews.
California’s decision was met with lots of grumbling from early-voting states that have grown used to the prestige of being power brokers beyond their electoral punch. Party leaders have grumbled, too, because California cutting to the front of the presidential sweepstakes line is disruptive.
The election in 2016 of Donald Trump – and the defeat of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary – persuaded progressives that their voice needed to be added to the mix earlier in the process. Oregon doesn’t possess the same electoral clout, so its previous flirtations with an earlier presidential primary mostly evaporated into political thin air. However, with California moving up, Oregon might think it wise to join the party, like a barnacle attaching to a humpback whale.
While an earlier California primary could create major headaches for presidential campaign staffs and consultants – such as, how do candidates keep their messages straight in Georgia and the left Coast in the same news cycle, voters out west will probably be glad to have a more compelling voice in the choice of presidential nominees.
While Oregon’s primary is ahead of California’s, it’s been a long time since Oregon voters helped to decide a presidential nomination in either party. For Republicans, the 1976 presidential election was the last time Oregonians voted before there was a presumptive nominee. For Democrats, you have to go back to 1968 and the insurgent campaign waged by Robert F. Kennedy, who lost in Oregon, but won the California primary a few weeks later and may have gone on to become the nominee if he hadn’t been assassinated at his California victory party.
The timing of primary elections is linked to a drive by progressive forces to move toward direct popular election of presidential candidates and scrapping (or at least bypassing) the electoral college. Oregon has been part of that movement, too, which is tied up with a belief that a popular vote will force candidates to campaign everywhere, not just in early primary states and key swing states.
Trump admitted he shaped his campaign to win the states with the electoral college votes needed to win the presidency. If the election would have been determined by a direct popular vote, he said he would have campaigned more in California.
Candidates in the 2020 presidential, who are already jockeying for position, will have to spend more time in California – or even be from California – because of the state’s earlier primary. It will be fun to see whether Oregon joins the parade, perhaps assuming it might boost the chances of an Oregon favorite son with presidential stars in his eyes.