With Earlier Primary, Calif. Reshapes Race

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 16, 2007

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed legislation yesterday moving the state's presidential primary to Feb. 5, 2008, a change that could lead to the earliest and biggest single-day test of candidate strength ever.

Half a dozen other large states, including New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey, are also considering moving their primaries to the first Tuesday in February, with the possibility that nearly two dozen contests will be held that day. Together, those states could account for more than half of the total number of delegates at stake.

While the rush to move to dates earlier in the nominating process has been motivated by states' desire to have more say in selecting the Republican and Democratic nominees, analysts said it may enhance the importance of the few small states whose contests will be held in January.

The kingmaker status of Iowa and New Hampshire, which have the first caucuses and first primary, respectively, in the nation, has been under siege in recent presidential cycles as other states have sought to shift their primaries ever earlier.

"California is important again in presidential nomination politics, and we will restore the voters' confidence in government, and we will get the respect that California deserves, and our issues will get the due respect along the campaign trail and also in Washington," Schwarzenegger said in signing the legislation yesterday.

But Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- which have the four most significant contests ahead of Feb. 5 -- still may play the biggest role in determining the winners, particularly if one or two candidates emerge from those early tests and roll into early February with a head of steam.

"The likelihood is that the early states become even more important because the one dynamic that is going to drive the February 5th outcome is momentum," said Bill Carrick, a California-based Democratic consultant and veteran of several presidential campaigns.

Tad Devine, another Democratic consultant with extensive experience in presidential primaries, agreed with that assessment but left open the possibility that the changes, particularly because of the proportional distribution of delegates in Democratic contests, could have the opposite effect.

"If no one dominates," he said, "then California could be the beginning of a long contested nominating process that leads to a really big mess."

The changes in the calendar are likely to help candidates with the greatest capacity to raise money. On the Democratic side, those include Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina. Among Republicans, those with the greatest fundraising potential are Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

All candidates, whether top-tier contenders or dark horses, will be affected by the changes, but not all in the same way. For Clinton, who leads in the early polls and is likely to be the best-financed of the Democratic candidates, the changes may have the least impact on strategy.

"Fortunately or unfortunately we don't control the calendar," said Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle. "I can tell you that it's our intention to compete aggressively, and we will have the resources to compete aggressively everywhere."

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