California Moves Up Presidential Primary

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 15, 2007; 7:52 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California jolted the time-tested presidential primary schedule Thursday, moving up its 2008 contest to Feb. 5 and setting the stage for a potentially decisive one-day, mega-primary across the country.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation shifting 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 already scheduled Feb. 5 primaries. But 15 other states _ including Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Texas _ are considering moving 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."

Galen said it's too early to predict how voters will be served.

"I don't think it helps democracy, but it's not clear to me that it hurts it," Galen said.

Strategically, a front-loaded schedule could regionalize the contest as well, forcing candidates to concentrate on different states.

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