Dem politi­cos, ig­nore Cal­i­for­nia at own peril

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Opinion -

Some­thing’s wrong here: Cal­i­for­nia will send ex­po­nen­tially more del­e­gates to the na­tional Demo­cratic Party’s nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion this sum­mer in Mil­wau­kee than all three of the first cau­cus and pri­mary elec­tion states, Iowa, New Hamp­shire and South Carolina.

Plus, Cal­i­for­ni­ans will be­gin re­ceiv­ing their bal­lots for their first-ever over­whelm­ingly mail-in statewide elec­tion on Feb. 4, just one day af­ter the Iowa cau­cuses and eight days be­fore any­one in New Hamp­shire can vote in that state’s tra­di­tion­ally first-in-the-na­tion pri­mary.

And yet…all can­di­dates for this cy­cle’s only con­tested pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion are mostly stay­ing out of Cal­i­for­nia.

This is very hard to fig­ure. Why, for ex­am­ple, did for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den skip the state Demo­cratic Party’s mid-Novem­ber con­ven­tion in Long Beach? Why El­iz­a­beth War­ren? Why would they ig­nore a tra­di­tional cam­paign sea­son cat­tle call, leav­ing the field to the likes of Pete But­tigieg, Ju­lian Cas­tro, Ka­mala Har­ris, Bernie San­ders, Andrew Yang and Cory Booker? All but San­ders and But­te­gieg are in the sec­ond or third tier among Demo­cratic hope­fuls.

The an­swer is tra­di­tion. While they could pick up al­most as many del­e­gates and pop­u­lar votes in just two or three of Cal­i­for­nia’s con­gres­sional dis­tricts as in any of the early pri­mary states, those states are where can­di­dates al­ways go for mo­men­tum – and to drop out when Big Mo ig­nores them.

But just as can­di­dates had to ad­just to the new dig­i­tal world, shift­ing much ad­ver­tis­ing to so­cial me­dia and away from tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials, they ought to be ad­just­ing right now to the new pri­mary cal­en­dar.

Yes, for can­di­dates with lit­tle or no cash on hand (like Har­ris, Cas­tro and Booker), it may pay to stay out of Cal­i­for­nia and in tiny states where per­sonal hand-to-hand cam­paign­ing can help them if they do it well enough.

But for can­di­dates like Bi­den, War­ren and the pos­si­ble soon-to-be-hope­ful Michael Bloomberg, the Golden State could be a gold mine.

Yet, none wants to risk spend­ing much time here right now, think­ing that might lead to hu­mil­i­a­tion in the early states that have long meant so much.

Ex­cept…by stay­ing away, they lose the ex­po­sure they could get in this most vote-rich state of all. By con­cen­trat­ing on just a few Cal­i­for­nia con­gres­sional dis­tricts and do­ing Iowa-style cam­paign­ing there, an ap­peal­ing but un­der­funded hope­ful could pick up plenty of del­e­gates.

The Demo­cratic Party rules in Cal­i­for­nia set up this kind of cre­ative pol­i­tick­ing, if any­one wants

to try it. The rules give each of our 53 dis­tricts be­tween four and six del­e­gates, with an­other big pot go­ing to the statewide leader. Since Democrats win del­e­gates in pro­por­tion to their pri­mary or cau­cus per­for­mances, and New Hamp­shire has just 24 pledged del­e­gates com­pared with Cal­i­for­nia’s 495, a can­di­date who wins only two dis­tricts here by big mar­gins could get as many del­e­gates as some­one who wins New Hamp­shire with a 30 per­cent plu­ral­ity (no one now has that much sup­port there).

So tra­di­tion­al­ism now ham­strings Demo­cratic can­di­dates. If they al­low that dur­ing the fall runoff, pre­sum­ably against Pres­i­dent

Trump, they will run into big prob­lems. Trump’s cam­paign, the most cy­ber­netic ever, re­sponds with in­stant ads at­tuned to ev­ery new po­lit­i­cal or global de­vel­op­ment.

So here’s some ad­vice to those sec­ond-tier can­di­dates (are you lis­ten­ing, Ka­mala Har­ris?) who seem to have lit­tle re­al­is­tic chance of win­ning the plu­ral­ity in Iowa or New Hamp­shire: Come back to Cal­i­for­nia dur­ing De­cem­ber and Jan­uary, and of­ten.

Pick a place where con­certed cam­paign­ing among a rel­a­tively few vot­ers can pro­duce del­e­gates. This might mean dis­tricts that re­mained Repub­li­can through the 2018 Demo­cratic con­gres­sional landslide. For in­stance, the

Eighth Dis­trict, stretch­ing south from the high desert east of the Sierra Ne­vada down into parts of the San Bernardino area, could be a big plus for a clever Democrat.

The dis­trict has few Democrats, but still awards four del­e­gates. It may be the eas­i­est place in Amer­ica for a Democrat to win del­e­gates by con­tact­ing small num­bers of vot­ers. Stage a town hall or two in this area that rarely sees a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and you might just be­come more prom­i­nent.

But who lis­tens to ad­vice, when tra­di­tion is so strong? Only those who re­ally want to win… and so far, the can­di­dates all but ig­nor­ing Cal­i­for­nia are show­ing that’s not them.

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