California holds its primary election this Tuesday. But, wait, didn’t we do that already? Yes, and no. For what I think is the first time in state history, our presidential and legislative primaries are on separate dates. ((Such practice is typical in some other states, especially those that routinely vote earlier in the presidential nominating cycle.)) We had the presidential primary on ‘Super Tuesday’ (5 February). Legislative and many local races are 3 June.
With no US Senate race this year, and this not being an election year for statewide constitutional offices, primaries will be held only for congressional, state-legislative, and other sub-state entities. This is evidently also unprecedented.
Turnout will be low. Really low. And, of course, this being California, there are statewide ballot measures being voted on, ((Two of them, both concerning eminent domain. We can’t ever seem to have just one measure per issue. I’ll do what many voters do when they don’t understand the issues and strongly suspect some organized interest is trying to pull one over on me: Vote no on both.)) allowing a potentially unrepresentative sample of the state electorate to make public policy for all the state’s residents.
Inevitably, the separate dates and the expected low turnout for this election have led to lots of “what ifs.” That is, what if California had kept its usual June primary for presidential nominating delegates? With the Democratic race having extended throughout the whole primary season, imagine the impact California would have had!
How much impact? Less than it actually had.
The “what if” scenario–which I have heard or read numerous pundits state–rests on the assumption that there would have been frantic competition between Clinton and Obama for such a BIG PRIZE at the end. The problem with this claim is that it rests on an implicit winner-take-all logic, as well as on the notion that only the “decisive” votes count. ((The same logic by which the closer makes more money than the set-up man. The ninth inning is clearly more important, right?)) Sure, if California used winner-take-all, and no other state did, and we had this close race… Then it would be quite a prize indeed. But with the proportional allocation of delegates–the only democratic way to do it ((And, in any event, one state is not going to be allowed to deviate from the proportional rule applied elsewhere. And if most or all states used winner-take-all, the contest would have been over long ago))–a contest this late would have had much less impact than it had back in February.
When we went to vote in February, we genuinely did not know the outcome of the contest. With 370 delegates at stake, and 81 of them decided statewide, about every 1.2% of the vote for a candidate meant another statewide delegate, and local swings between the candidates also would shift some number of the district delegates between the candidates (depending on magnitude of the district and how much of a local swing).
Now the race is over, and it has been (effectively) over for some time. The pledged delegate count (after the Florida/Michigan adjustment), according to Real Clear Politics, stands at:
Without California, it would be
A deficit for Clinton of 154 rather than the actual 116.
Chances are she would have done no better in California in June that she did in February. In fact, I suspect she would lose if we were voting this week. Suppose the result of the two candidate race (55%-45%) were to be reversed–probably an unrealistically large swing relative to the real result. Obama would pick up 38 delegates at her expense. We would be at 1774 to 1582. Not exactly race-altering. Of course, if we add in the ex-oficio delegates under the assumption they would have been declaring at the same rate and same proportions even if California had not voted yet, then we probably would be looking at a clinch for Obama in California on 3 June. ((RCP shows him at 2065 as of today, and if he won 38 more in California than he actually did, he’d be 15 short. But with polls closing in South Dakota and Montana earlier on 3 June than in California, the Golden State would deliver the decisive vote. But the assumption on ‘supers’ is probably unrealistic. With the biggest state not having voted yet, it is likely that fewer of the unelected delegates would have declared by now. And if so, California still would not be decisive.)) But, again, the notion that such a scenario implies more meaningful votes for Californians than the ones they actually cast in February rests on a dubious logic. It requires the belief that it is better to give a candidate the clinching delegate in a race that is clearly all but over than it is to have voted early when almost every vote counted in affecting the balance of delegates in a race that was just developing. The latter is certainly closer to the “every vote counts” democratic ideal. It certainly made me feel my own vote was more meaningful than if I had to wait till this week to weigh in at last.