California moves primary to Feb. '08

Governor signs law to boost state's influence on presidential choice

March 16, 2007|By New York Times News Service

LOS ANGELES -- With a swipe of his pen, some flowery remarks and a good backdrop, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger moved California's presidential primary yesterday - to February 2008 from June - placing the nation's most populous state at the increasingly congested front end of the primary calendar.

Speaking outside the Stanford Mansion in Sacramento - the site of the first presidential visit to California, by Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1880 - Schwarzenegger, a Republican, noted that presidential candidates had already come to the state to woo voters as the new primary date was being talked about.

"But today is a special day because we turn this talk into action," the governor said. "Moving our presidential primary means California will have the influence it deserves when it comes to choosing the next presidential candidates."

California is one of roughly 20 states with an eye on Feb. 5, which is shaping up to be a primary day of enormous importance, if for no other reason than the large number of delegates that could be in play.

The jostling has disturbed some members of the Democratic National Committee, which last July changed the Democratic primary and caucus calendar to include Nevada and South Carolina among the early states.

As it now stands, Nevada's caucus will be five days after the Jan. 14 Iowa caucus, and South Carolina's primary will be at least a week after the Jan. 22 New Hampshire primary.

The prospect of a host of early primaries has also vexed some campaigns, which are trying to decide where to send candidates first in a changed scenario. California, with its numerous delegates and expensive media market, makes that calculation all the more difficult.

"We don't know what the consequences of all these moves will be," said Karen Finney, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. "Candidates will have to make decisions about where they will spend their time and money."

While politicians here celebrate what they perceive to be California's newfound importance in the presidential nomination process, there were other motivating factors in moving the primary.

In so doing, the Assembly speaker, Fabian Nunez, and the Senate president pro tem, Don Perata, both Democrats, will be able to place an initiative on that February ballot to alter the state's term-limit laws.

If passed, those changes would allow both men, who will soon be forced out of office by the term-limits law, to seek re-election. The state legislative primaries would remain in June.

Schwarzenegger is championing his own initiative for the February ballot that would create a commission to develop plans to redraw legislative district lines, a subject of his failed ballot initiative in 2005.

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