COURSEY: California's forgotten presidential primary
Published: Monday, June 4, 2012 at 1:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 4, 2012 at 1:01 p.m.
There are plenty of good reasons to vote on Tuesday, but the presidential primary isn't one of them.
What – you didn't know there's a presidential primary this week? Don't feel too badly. Many Californians don't realize it's on the ballot, and most don't care.
Why? Because the major candidates for president in 2012 have already been decided, without any help from California voters. If you're a Democrat, your ballot tomorrow offers a single choice in the presidential primary: Barack Obama (“vote for one,” the ballot helpfully instructs). Republican voters are asked to choose one from a field of six candidates, including the familiar (Romney, Gingrich, Paul, Santorum) and the unfamiliar (Fred Karger, Charles E. “Buddy” Roemer III). Green Party voter choices include the actress Roseanne Barr; American Independents have a presidential contender named Mad Max Riekse. Voters registered with other lesser parties also get to make their picks.
But realistically, California voters don't have much of a choice. The two major parties have made their decisions; Mitt Romney will be the GOP's nominee, barring any John Edwards-like scandals in the next couple of months. The voters – at least the voters east of the Sierra Nevada – have spoken.
It wasn't always like this. California's June presidential primary used to carry a lot of weight. Robert Kennedy scored a stunning win in California in June 1968 (only to be assassinated moments after his victory speech). George McGovern surged to the front of the pack in California's 1972 primary. But winning in California in June didn't help the presidential chances of Jerry Brown, Ted Kennedy and Gary Hart in '76, '80 and '84.
California is the most populous state in the union, but its voters rarely have a say in who wins the major-party nominations for president. That privilege goes to such places as New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.
Feeling left out, California legislators moved the state's presidential primary to the first Tuesday in March in 2000, but Al Gore and George W. Bush had things pretty well sewn up by that year's “Super Tuesday.” We found ourselves in a similar boat in March 2004.
So, in 2008, the Legislature bumped the presidential primary up to the first Tuesday of February. Other states upped the ante by switching their primaries to even earlier dates. When Californians gave Hillary Clinton the Democratic victory that year, it was too late to keep Obama from winning the nomination.
So, here we are back to the “consolidated” June primary – consolidated meaning that national, statewide and local races all appear on the same ballot on the same day. It's more efficient, it's less expensive, it makes more sense and, at least in the presidential primary, it's essentially meaningless.
Unless, of course, you're a Republican and want to show your streak of independence by casting a ballot for Karger, a political consultant and gay rights advocate, or for Roemer, a former Democrat, former Congressman, former governor of Louisiana and former candidate for president.
He announced his withdrawal from the campaign last week.
But don't despair. No matter what your party, you can always cast a write-in vote.
Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.
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