Will California have some clout in the 2016 primaries?

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[KCRW’s Warren Olney has launched Olney in L.A., an ongoing exploration of the people and the forces that are shaping Southern California.]

For 40 years, presidential nominations have been decided before the biggest state in the union got to vote in a primary. To look at the history and why this year could be different, Warren talked with Democratic strategist Bill Carrick and  Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

Carrick recalled how in 1972, Sen. George McGovern won the California primary and all of its delegates to the Democratic National Convention, allowing him to prevail over former Vice President Hubert Humphrey in a closely contested race. California previously was a decisive turning point in the 1964 Republican contest between Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater and the 1968 Democratic race with Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy.

Carrick said in the past 40 years, the political parties have shifted away from winner-take-all statewide primary rules, and that has shortened the decision-making, diminishing California’s role.

Schnur said it is more likely that California will be decisive this year among the Republicans because of their large, well-financed field of presidential candidates, “but it’s still pretty much of a longshot.”

“It’s unlikely that most of those candidates will be in the race 30 days from now,” Schnur said. “But even if you end up with a two- or three-candidate race and they are all well-funded, then this certainly could come all the way to California.”

“On the Democratic side,” he said, “it’s worth noting that whether Bernie Sanders actually statistically won the Iowa caucuses or not he did raise $3 million in the first 24 hours after the caucuses. He’s more than likely to win New Hampshire. And even if his path to the nomination is still a difficult one, it’s hard to see much incentive for him to get out of the race any time soon.”

“So again while the odds are against it,” Schnur said, “It’s more plausible than in many years that one or both parties could have a contested primary here in the state.”

Carrick noted that eight years ago when then-Sen. Hillary Clinton won the California primary, because there is no winner-take-all rule, then-Sen. Barack Obama got enough delegates from California that the state did not make a difference in who got the nomination.


You can hear Warren Olney’s weekly take on the city’s key issues on Thursday afternoons during All Things Considered and Friday mornings during Morning Edition.