By Paul Steinhauser
Published December 27, 2018
He’s a young, charismatic, politician who’s lately grabbing a ton of 2020 buzz.
But if outgoing Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas does decide to run the for the Democratic presidential nomination, he may have something else going for him – some home field advantage in a delegate rich state that votes early in the primary calendar.
Nearly 225 of the state’s Democratic delegates are up for grabs when Texas and at least eight other states vote on March 3, 2020, which is being dubbed as this cycle’s Super Tuesday.
California, where 416 of the state’s Democratic delegates are at stake on primary day, is also holding its contest on Super Tuesday. The Golden State’s home to Sen. Kamala Harris, another likely Democratic White House contender.
“Whoever does really well and places high up there will get a huge boost and healthy chunk of delegates,” said Mo Elleithee, the founding Executive Director of Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service and a Fox News contributor.
Both big states could play an even bigger role in selecting the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020, thanks to their early slots on the primary calendar as well as early voting likely to get underway before states like New Hampshire and South Carolina even hold their prized primaries. And for those candidates who call Texas or California home – and there are several – the calendar offers a clear advantage.
For California, it’s all about timing and location.
It’s propelled its presidential primary from the end of the 2016 primary calendar to near the top of the 2020 calendar, ensuring that the nation’s most populous and diverse state will have a much bigger say in choosing the Democratic Party’s presidential primary.
The 2020 Super Tuesday is the earliest possible date a state can hold its primary and not run afoul of Democratic National Committee rules which only allow the traditional four early voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina – to hold caucuses and primaries in February.
California’s move -- which happened more than a year ago -- has been relentlessly spotlighted in the media the past six weeks, with the kick off of the 2020 cycle. While there’s been incessant analysis on how the Golden State’s new primary position will impact the four traditional early voting states, what’s received less coverage is whether the move will give a leg up to potential White House contenders who call California home.
Besides Harris, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Congressman Eric Swalwell, and billionaire environmentalist and Trump impeachment leader Tom Steyer call California home. And in Texas, besides O’Rourke -- who narrowly lost his bid this year to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz -- the state is home to former San Antonio mayor and Health and Human Services Secretary Julian Castro, who recently formed a presidential exploratory committee.
“For some of the better known candidates from some of those states it’s a good way to possibly put some early delegates in the bank, but what’s really interesting is what do candidates who don’t come from those states do,” said Elleithee, a senior spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who later served as communications director for the Democratic National Committee.
He added that having California and Texas near the beginning of the primary calendar “changes the entire dynamic” not just for the home state candidates but “for everybody else as well.”
But there’s also a downside.
“There actually could be a lot of peril for some of the home state candidates,” Elleithee said. “If these candidates who come from these states don’t do incredibly well, if they get beat by some of the better known candidates with a larger national profile, their home states could actually end up hurting their prospects long-term, could end up ending their campaigns.”
There’s plenty of examples of favorite sons going down to defeat.
Last cycle Republican Sen. Marco Rubio lost his home state of Florida to Donald Trump. And most famously Jerry Brown was defeated by Bill Clinton in the 1992 California primary.
The potential California and Texas contenders may not be the only candidates with some Super Tuesday home field advantage.
Massachusetts and Vermont – home to likely White House hopefuls Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – also hold primaries on March 3, 2020. But delegates at stake in those states – 116 in Massachusetts and just 26 in Vermont – pale in comparison to the treasure chest of delegates up for grabs in California and Texas.
While California’s move will undoubtedly give the state more clout in helping to determine the Democratic nominee, it could also benefit the candidates with the bigger names and bigger campaign war chests who would be able to spend the money needed to compete in large states with multiple and expensive media markets.
And it could lead some candidates to spend more time in California and Texas and less in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which are smaller, less expensive, and require presidential contenders to practice the art of retail politics.
But longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley warned that ignoring the early voting states can be perilous.
“I think it actually is a tricky road for them. If they don’t do well in Iowa, if they don’t do well in New Hampshire or Nevada or South Carolina, then you could see their home state heading south on them. And that’s never good if you don’t do well in your own home state,” Buckley emphasized.
Buckley spotlighted numerous times in presidential primary history where a candidate who concentrated on a later primary at the expense of the early voting states came up short. The most recent glaring example was Rudy Giuliani in 2008.
Buckley told Fox News that having very large states like California and Texas voting at the beginning of March “only emphasizes the importance of the early states.”
“When you have a big crowded field like this, I think the investments in the early states are going to be critically important,” he added.
Elleithee – pointing to the possibility of more than 20 Democrats running for president and party rules that allows candidates to amass delegates but winning just 15% of the vote in a primary or caucus – argued that the upcoming calendar could allow for multiple frontrunners.
“When you’ve got a field that’s a truly wide open as this is, unless someone runs the table early on, we could have four different winners in the four early voting states, with different frontrunners in California and Texas,” he predicted.