Back when America had a messy but relatively sane Presidential nominating system, the California primary in early June was often the Waterloo of the long primary season. California is where Barry Goldwater knocked out Nelson Rockefeller in 1964 and Robert F. Kennedy famously defeated Eugene McCarthy moments before his murder in 1968.
But over the years the nominating process has become absurdly front-loaded, culminating in 2004 when John Kerry won the ridiculous Iowa caucuses in January and Howard Dean emitted a weird noise, and that was that: the Democratic Party was stuck with Kerry because a few thousand Iowans thought he was more "electable." So, the citizens of America's biggest state haven't had a say in the nominations in decades.
Now, Gov. Schwarzenegger looks like he's going to get his way and move the California primary back all the way to February 5, 2008. Obviously, that has massive implications for fundraising in 2007 since the cost of buying advertisements in the LA and Bay Area television markets is gigantic. So, this would suggest that the many dark horses who have talked about entering the race won't stand a chance.
Of course, if the media and voters remain as obsessed with momentum coming out of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina (and in 2008 Nevada for the Democrats) as they have been in recent years, the races might still be virtually over by the time the candidates get to California.
Our dysfunctional Presidential nominating process is one of America's biggest problems, but there doesn't seem to be any feasible way to fix it.
By the way, something that isn't widely understood is the odd way that the GOP primary will hand out delegates in California.
The Fresno Bee reports:
"For Republicans, the primary election will be a new experience as the party will select all but a handful of its delegates based on which candidate wins each of the state's 53 congressional districts. In past elections, the top vote-getter statewide earned all the delegates. In each congressional district, the Republican winner will capture three delegates. It is the same for a liberal Bay Area district or a conservative Valley district…"
This means that liberal Republican candidates (e.g., Rudy Giuliani) will have a big advantage in picking up delegates in California, where they can win Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco Congressional district with a ridiculously small number of GOP votes. And I have no idea who is going to win Maxine Waters' South Central LA district, but I bet the GOP winner won't make it to four digits in votes there.