California Lawmakers Take a Big Step Towards Having More Influence in National Elections

California lawmakers sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill early Saturday that would move the state’s 2020 primary election up three months to March, bidding to exert greater influence on the next presidential nominating contest.

If signed into law by Brown, the early primary could dramatically alter the shape of the next presidential race, forcing primary candidates to compete in a state that has long languished as an afterthought in national elections.

California would allocate its delegates just after early nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

“If we want to assert our values and the issues that we think are important, I think it behooves California to assert its authority and its values much earlier on in the process,” Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara, the bill’s author, said after the legislation passed. “The candidates are going to be forced to campaign in California.”

The effect of California moving its primary from June remains uncertain. The nation’s most populous state is also one of the most expensive to campaign in, and California has been marginalized in previous elections even when it held earlier primaries, including in 2008.

But the Democratic field in 2020 appears wide open, and a March contest in California could provide an opportunity for candidates able to raise enough early money to campaign in the state’s expensive media markets.

The early primary could also help two prospective presidential candidates from California — U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The measure, backed by California’s majority Democrats and endorsed by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, passed the state Senate on the final night of the year’s legislative session. Its approval came over the objection of lawmakers who warned an early primary would needlessly extend the length of down-ballot campaigns, forcing legislative and local candidates to begin running for office earlier in the election cycle.