SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday moved California's presidential primary from June to February, giving the nation's most populous state a greater stake in selecting nominees and shaking up the 2008 political calendar.
"Now California is important again in presidential nominating politics ... and we will get the respect that California deserves," Schwarzenegger said during a bill-signing ceremony.
California has not played a prominent role in a presidential primary since 1972, when George McGovern beat Hubert Humphrey for the Democratic nomination. Schwarzenegger is hoping that by moving the presidential primary from June to Feb. 5, the state will again play a significant role.
But California's bid for more clout has pressured other states to move up their contests, as well. That may diminish California's influence by turning the day into a national primary, with contests held in as many as 19 states.
Still, the prospect of an early primary has prompted presidential candidates from both parties to add California to their itinerary that also includes the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Republican candidates John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have appeared at Schwarzenegger's side. The events were designed to draw attention to issues the governor cares about but that might not ordinarily interest a presidential candidate, such as congestion at the port in Long Beach and gang violence in Los Angeles.
"Before the election, it's already accomplished what we set out to do: The candidates for president are already in California. They're already talking with us. Before they would just come, raise money and leave," said Democratic state Sen. Ron Calderon, a sponsor of the measure.
Many Republicans, particularly in the state Assembly, opposed moving up the primary, saying it would cost counties too much money to hold an extra election. But as he signed the bill, Schwarzenegger pledged to reimburse counties for the cost, which local officials estimate between $60 million and $90 million.