What do 2020 Democrats say about California fires? Not much
SACRAMENTO — California Democrats hoped they would finally bask in the attention of presidential candidates when they moved their primary to the front of the calendar. But as the state battles the twin disasters of wildfires and mass power outages, White House hopefuls are nowhere to be found.
In a field of nearly 20 candidates, no one has traveled to California to visit residents displaced from their homes or commend first responders who have worked around the clock. That includes California Sen. Kamala Harris, who is trying to revive her flagging campaign with an all-in focus on Iowa, the state that ushers in the presidential primary season.
California is the nation's most populous state and its biggest economic powerhouse. It's also home to more than 400 delegates who will be awarded on Super Tuesday to help decide the next Democratic presidential nominee. But the response to the wildfires has been mostly limited to tweets expressing a need to fight climate change and urging people to heed emergency warnings. That's a reminder that the state is still a relatively low priority for most candidates.
The path to the nomination, for most White House hopefuls, still runs through the traditional early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Harris may be missing an opportunity, said Rob Stutzman, deputy chief of staff to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had a knack for the public-facing side of dealing with disaster.
"It's a chance to look presidential, like a commander," he said. "A great narrative for (Harris) in Iowa right now would be her leading her state during the fires."
Most presidential candidates are spending the weekend in Iowa, where a marquee party fundraiser on Friday night is expected to attract 13,000 people and kick off the final three-month stretch until the caucuses. But some have visited disaster sites in other early voting states.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, unveiled a disaster-relief plan in September in Conway, South Carolina, which was hit last year by a hurricane and will hold its primary three days before California. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar toured flooded sections of Hamburg, Iowa, last spring.
Former California Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the legislation moving up the primary and is a prominent climate crusader, said candidates are being short sighted by not doing more to address the wildfires.
"People are not running for president for 15 minutes or five days. Presumably they want to get elected for four years," he said. "In the next eight years, we're going to have worse fires. On many levels, there's plenty to talk about."
He said candidates should talk in detail about forest management and upgrading the nation's utility infrastructure as climate change worsens. So far, he said, the White House hopefuls have spent too much time arguing about other issues, such as the future of the health insurance market.
"The worst is yet to come, but California gives an early warning of the devastation that is in store for us," Brown warned. "The amount of time they spend on the difference between Obamacare and Medicare for All, those are rather fine distinctions."
"The stability of the climate," he said, "has far more to do with health over the next quarter century."
Millions of Californians have lost power since Oct. 9, most of them customers of Pacific Gas & Electric but some of Southern California Edison.