A Democratic presidential primary field that already embraces the Green New Deal and has floated ideas like reparations and guaranteed jobs could drift even further left thanks to a quirk in this year’s primary calendar.
Unlike past elections, California will hold its primary early in the season – on March 3, 2020. That means the West Coast state, and its famously liberal voters, will hold extra influence this cycle. And while the 2020 candidates still have to connect with supporters in earliest-voting Iowa and New Hampshire – with their more moderate-leaning electorates – California’s combination of an early primary and massive delegate count could motivate the field to run decisively in the progressive lane from the start.
“The Democratic electorate is much more progressive than almost any state,” said Roger Salazar, spokesman for the California Democratic Party. “All of that is going to help bring up some of the core issues Californians care about.”
He listed the environment, health care, immigration and economic injustice as top issues among California Democrats – incidentally, issues that many 2020 candidates are already talking about. Climate change, in particular, has been a rallying cry for candidates, with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee making it the centerpiece of his campaign. Salazar said he’s already seen an ad from Inslee – the earliest primary ad he’s ever witnessed in the state.
“I think Californians are ready for 2020,” he said. “It’s already begun.”
In another sign of California’s emerging influence this cycle, putative front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders plans to visit the state this week.
Back in 2016, California’s primary was June 7, making it a virtual afterthought for the primary field.
Not only is California’s primary now slated for Super Tuesday in March, but early voting is set to start around the time of the Iowa caucuses. With that in mind, Sanders’ visit this week is likely the start of a political gold rush of sorts, as the 2020 candidates look west for electoral gold.
California currently is worth nearly 500 delegates in the primary. By comparison, Iowa yields roughly 50 delegates, while New Hampshire has close to 30.
Sanders already has put in some face time in California, campaigning for candidates there during the 2018 midterms, and also in 2016 during a last-ditch attempt to defeat Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not made his official 2020 plans public, also spent much of the midterms campaigning and fundraising with candidates out west. Other candidates, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have made stops to the Golden State already this cycle.
Another top candidate, Kamala Harris, has a built-in advantage on the California battleground as the state is her home turf. Now a U.S. senator, Harris used to serve as California attorney general – and kicked off her campaign in Oakland, highlighting those roots.
How much California voters are able to refocus the field’s agenda remains to be seen. But some strategists argue that what those voters want to see most is someone capable of beating President Trump.
“California voters want to see a candidate who can beat Donald Trump,” said Nathan Ballard, a Democratic strategist in the state and longtime friend and adviser to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. “California will not be home for an ideological purity test.”
Brian Brokaw, a Democratic strategist who worked on Harris’ Senate race, agreed, saying while California Democrats are more liberal on certain issues, they are determined to beat Trump above all else.
“This is California,” said Brokaw. “The heart of the resistance to President Trump and the administration.”
Still, he said issues like immigration will probably be discussed more given the state’s demographics.
“We have a very different view of immigration than the Trump administration likes to put out,” said Brokaw. Issues like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – which made headlines during much of Trump’s first year in office – remain prominent in California. “Without a doubt, candidates will need to weigh in on their views with DACA.”
California will also shake up the race in another way: by forcing candidates to spend big, and early.
Not only is the media market among the most expensive in the country, but the size of the state presents challenges for candidates limited on time and resources.
Here, too, Harris enjoys an advantage, with built-in name identification and a donor network already in place. She’s the only one in the field who has competed statewide.
“The fact that California is an early state is ... going to be very advantageous to her,” said Brokaw, who remains unaffiliated but said he’ll likely support Harris. “The Bay Area always plays an important role in the statewide primary ... [and] that’s her backyard. The stars are aligning quite well.”
Fox News reached out to several of the declared candidates’ campaigns to ask about competing in California. Few returned requests for comment. A spokesperson for Andrew Yang – one of the lesser-known candidates – told Fox News that their team is excited to run in such a large state early in the process and added the campaign has over 10,000 donors in California.
Harris and Sanders’ campaigns did not return requests for comment.