September 28, 1998
In an attempt to gain greater influence over presidential elections, the California legislature voted to move up the date of its presidential primary. Jeffrey Kaye of KCET/Los Angeles reports on California's decision and its possible effects on the election process.
JIM LEHRER: The state of California took a step today toward becoming an even larger player in the next presidential election. Jeffrey Kay of KCET-Los Angeles reports.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
July 13, 1998:
Several California legislators set their own term limits.
June 18, 1998:
How the mid-term elections are shaping up across the country.
June 5, 1998:
Shields and Gigot analyze the California primary results.
June 4, 1998:
Analysis of the California primary elections.
June 1, 1998:
How has money and television advertising affected the California governors race?
March 29, 1998:
Republican officials examine possible changes to the primary election system.
Browse the NewsHour's election coverage.
JEFFREY KAYE: By the spring of 1996, at the time of the California primary election, there was little suspense about who the parties would nominate for president. Republican Senator Bob Dole and Democratic President Bill Clinton were already shoe-ins for their nominations after primaries held earlier around the country. Many California politicians, such as Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones, resent what they see as the state's minimal role in the presidential selection process.
A minimal role in the presidential election process?
BILL JONES, Secretary of State, California: California has not had an impact in presidential politics from the selection process in the presidential primaries in thirty years. That is not fair to the people of California, nor is it good for the United States to fully leave 20 percent of the population of the largest state out of choosing the next president.
JEFFREY KAYE: Jones is frustrated that national candidates have mined the golden state more for its campaign funds than for its votes; he is championing what for some Californians has been a perennial cause: to move up the date of California's presidential primary election.
JIM COSTA, California State Senator: Currently as we all are aware our primaries are held in June. Because of that over 90 percent of the convention delegates are chosen prior to California's primary being held. What that has done is reduced us to what we refer to as an automatic teller machine as far as presidential politics are concerned.
JEFFREY KAYE: This year, the California legislature voted to move the state's year 2000 primary to the first Tuesday in March. That puts California one week ahead of another significant date for presidential campaigns - super Tuesday, the regional primary for southern states, including Texas and Florida. The effort is part of a nationwide scramble among states to gain more clout in presidential elections. Colorado's governor Roy Romer has encouraged the Rocky Mountain states to move up their primaries to early March.
GOVERNOR ROY ROMER, Colorado: You know, I came from a large family. If you don't get to the table, you don't get to eat. You get that one? And you know, right now, the West isn't getting to feast on the attention of national politics and we've got to elbow our way to the table.
JEFFREY KAYE: New England states, with similarly sharp elbows, have also scheduled primaries for the first Tuesday in March. Officials in many state houses say there is a practical reason to consolidate primaries. California's secretary of state wants Pacific Coast states to hold their primaries on the same date. He says it's important for national candidates to address regional issues.
BILL JONES: Water, something I've been working on for many years, is perceived differently in the West because of the fact that where we come from historically, and that without it we haven't been able to grow our crops, build our cities, and what have you. And since many of the areas of the West are in historically arid desert areas, it's obviously very important.
JEFFREY KAYE: Massachusetts Secretary William Galvin says presidential candidates might focus on different issues in different regions.
WILLIAM GALVIN, Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth: If a candidate were campaigning in an agricultural state, agricultural issues would be discussed. If, as is the case here in New England, the issues probably related perhaps to fishing or high- tech or perhaps to higher education, which would be major industries in this region, it would make sense.
JEFFREY KAYE: But what makes sense for states' interests isn't necessarily best for political campaigns. Candidates must concern themselves with fundraising and scheduling. The stage will be set for bicoastal political chaos, according to Galvin.
Sec. Galvin: " It would lead to not only the inefficiency of a bicoastal primary, but to a colossal mess."
WILLIAM GALVIN: We're going to be looking at a bicoastal primary on the same day. And it won't be a situation where a candidate or any group of candidates can say, we'll select one coast or the other. They're really going to have to be competitive on both coasts. We'll also then have the so-called Super Tuesday primary coming up the very next Tuesday -- which in the year 2000 will I believe be March 14th -- and have several other primaries, as happenstance would have it, on that same day. It would lead to not only the inefficiency of a bicoastal primary, but to a colossal mess.
JEFFREY KAYE: And, says Galvin, a colossal expense. In order to make their mark, candidates will have to raise and spend large sums of money early in the political season.
WILLLIAM GALVIN: This was a concern of many of my Republican colleagues in 1996, Senator Dole was the acknowledged nominee at a very early point in the process because in part of the frontloading of the primary schedule. But he had no money by the time April and May came along. He was unable to run commercials, even in states where he was competing. On the other hand, President Clinton didn't have that problem. He hadn't had a primary opponent. So therefore he had not been required to spend his money up front. He was able to budget his money much more effectively.
JEFFREY KAYE: To avoid so many simultaneous primary elections, Massachusetts' Galvin and California's Jones are advocating a series of rotating regional primary elections.
BILL JONES: The far East is organizing. The South, of course, has in the past. They're looking at a Midwest. So, four or five regions will, in fact, probably come to the surface, regardless of anything else. Then, what we need to do is just put them in a place where you start at one order and then the top region drops to the bottom at the next presidential election and works its way up.
JEFFREY KAYE: Jones and Galvin suggest the order of rotating regional primaries be determined by lottery. But they disagree on when a new system could be in place. Galvin wants the states to work it out by 2,000; Jones says Californians should vote first in 2,000, before rotating primaries start in 2004. Today, in Sacramento, Governor Pete Wilson signed the bill moving California's primary elections to the first Tuesday in March, the same date as Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. Washington, Nevada, and Oregon are considering a similar move.