California will hold primary on Feb. 5
Other states look to same day for presidential vote
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said yesterday that moving up California's presidential primary will increase its influence. (AP Photo)
SACRAMENTO -- California jolted the time-tested presidential primary schedule yesterday, moving up its 2008 contest to Feb. 5 and setting the stage for a potentially decisive one-day, megaprimary across the country.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation moving the state into make-or-break prominence from its position as a June straggler in the presidential-nominating process.
"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 joins a handful of other states that have scheduled Feb. 5 primaries. But 15 other states -- including Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Texas -- are considering whether to move their contests to the same day.
Such a jam-packed early schedule presents a monumental challenge to candidates in a presidential contest that is already moving at warp speed.
Many strategists in both political parties believe it also increases the significance of early successes in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina -- all of which will hold contests before Feb. 5.
"To go to California, you are going to need a huge head of steam," said Democratic political consultant Jenny Backus. "California moving up actually makes more attention go on the first lap. Even if you have all the money in the world, it will be hard to catch up to somebody who has racked up some victories in the first states."
Republican consultant Rich Galen said California would have a huge impact on the primary, but it's multiplied by all the other populous states that are considering a move up to Feb. 5.
"It means the living room and luncheonette phase of the campaign will be very short because campaigns need to conserve cash to buy TV time," Galen said. "You've got to have enough money to be legitimate."
Strategically, a front-loaded schedule could regionalize the contest as well, forcing candidates to concentrate on different states.
A giant Feb. 5 also upends plans by the Democratic National Committee, which had carefully designed an early-primary schedule that squeezed Nevada caucuses between Iowa's Jan. 14 caucus and New Hampshire's Jan. 22 primary and set South Carolina's primary for Jan. 29.
Party officials envisioned that the diversity of primary states could result in four regional candidates who then would fight their way through the remainder of the contests.
Some strategists suggest that a superprimary could help a well-financed candidate who stumbles in the early primaries .
The schedule shake-up is clearly not over.
As the number of states planning Feb. 5 primaries grows, New Hampshire is also contemplating moving its primary up, possibly into December of this year.
New Hampshire's secretary of state, William M. Gardner, was unavailable yesterday. His deputy said California's move does not change New Hampshire's plans.
"At this point I think he's just waiting to see how the landscape is shaping up," said Deputy Secretary of State David M. Scanlan. "He'll do it his way."
The prospect of an early primary has prompted presidential candidates to see California not simply as a repository for campaign donations. Several have already been to California, holding rallies and fund-raisers.