SPECIAL CONVENTION COVERAGE -- EXCLUSIVE: Everything the Presidential Candidates and Press Corps Need to Know About this Weekend's Convention (But Were Afraid to AsK)
TO: THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS AND MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL PRESS CORPS
FR: CINCINATUS LEHANE
RE: THE IMPACT OF THE CALIFORNIA PRIMARY AND WHAT TO DO IN SAN DIEGO
DATE: APRIL 26, 2007
As the various Democratic presidential campaigns and the national press corps descend on San Diego this weekend, it is worth considering what will be the true impact of the early California primary, as well as what one can do while in San Diego between candidate speeches and caucus events.
THE IMPACT OF THE FEBRUARY 5, 2008 CALIFORNIA PRIMARY
The California primary will play a big role in the 2008 presidential election because at the end of the day there is a decent enough chance that the primary roulette wheel will stop with the ball firmly on the Golden State’s number come February 5, 2008, which means all of the presidential campaigns have to hedge their bets and look to play to win in the state. Come December and January, adding the 415, 213/323 and 858 into the mix will probably be a real downer to the DC, Illinois and NY press traveling with the campaigns -- but I am guessing they will have the fortitude to suck it up.
Ultimately, just how big a role California plays will be dependent on how Iowa and New Hampshire play out (which is like trying to figure out what Al Davis will do with the number one pick on Saturday’s NFL draft). If a candidate sweeps both of those states, we will have a scenario like 2000 and 2004 where the winning candidate will be virtually unstoppable. On the other hand, if the situation is like 1992 where there was a more muddled picture coming out of the early states, than California will suddenly loom as the big prize (depending to some degree on whether Florida moves up in advance and what mosaic of other states end up in the mix).
Given that the over-under is that California will play some significant role -- and under possibly the defining role -- in picking the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2008, it is worth taking a look at the potential impact of the state’s early primary on the Democratic Party, the campaigns and the country.
Impact on the Democratic Party: Approaching the primary process from the perspective of a Democrat hoping and praying the Party nominates a candidate with the skill set needed to actually win a general national election, an early California primary greatly improves the chances that the Party identifies just such a candidate.
Historically, small retail politics states like Iowa and New Hampshire play an enormous -- if not determinative -- role in picking the nominees (and the voters in these states really take their role even more seriously that I take picking my fantasy baseball team, which is deadly serious stuff). These states reward candidates who are adept at retail, one-on-one politics; assembling one constituency group after another in relatively homogenous states; and who have the ability to connect in living rooms. However, these retail skills are not the skills needed to win in a national campaign. Rather, a broad based message, the ability to communicate over the tube, capacity to manage a large campaign and being able to raise oodles of money are the keys to success in a modern presidential campaign.
Outside of a national primary, a California primary where candidates are actually competing to win on the ground in the state comes the closest to replicating a national election and, in doing so, will help the Party identify that candidate with the skill set that will best translate into a national campaign.
Impact on the campaigns: At the pure nuts and bolts tactical operational level, the California primary will create a significant challenge for the campaigns, most of which are based east of the Mississippi, as they begin to realize just how massive and expensive a real campaign in the California nation-state will truly be given the state’s geographic size, 35 million people and double-digit media markets (including five major TV markets). Los Angeles County alone has about the same amount of registered Democratic voters as IA, NH, SC and NV -- combined. It would take a century of Iowa caucuses, where approximately 100,000 people participate every four years, to equal the number of California Democrats that voted in our 2006 primary -- 2.5 million.
Some of the key tactical decisions the campaigns will need to make, include:
- Spending the type of media money needed to truly compete out here and make an impression -- a ten week, modest TV buy will cost $20-$30 million.
- Putting in play an intensive vote by mail ("VBM") absentee program so that in advance of Iowa a campaign could put more votes in the bank from Los Angeles County absentees -- say around 200,000 -- than the leading vote getters could get from Iowa and NH -- combined. In the 2006 primary, around 47% of the vote was by mail -- and a decent chunk of that came in early. In other words: VBM = a real firewall.
- Recognizing that the true political muscle in this state is Sacramento -- and devise campaigns around generating support from the Senate and Assembly Democratic caucuses -- where people like Senate President Don Perata and Speaker Fabian Nunez will be major players -- with the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles being the next biggest "gets" in terms of endorsements translating into votes, constituency group power and dough (both Perata and Nunez raised more money in the last cycle than any of the presidential candidates have to date).
- If a candidate is able to roll up a critical mass of these California endorsements, will he or she be able to leverage these officials to lock down important constituency groups -- in particular labor. Just imagine: given the size of the states that Senators Obama and Clinton hail from, if they could combine the constituency groups from their home state and the California constituency groups, they could effectively control the constituency groups nationally.
- Targeting the big swing vote in the primary -- Latinos -- who will be up for grabs and could account for 18-20% of the vote compared to African-Americans and Asian-Americans, who account for 8% and 6% percent of the vote respectively.
- Occupying swaths of real estate along the NorCal corridor that runs from Sacramento to San Francisco to San Jose (I-80 to 680), which historically accounts for close to half of the Democratic primary votes and a big reason why Northern California candidates tend to beat Southern California candidates in Democratic primaries.
Impact on the country: The early primary will have an impact on the country at a number of levels:
- California serves as both an ATM for the candidates and for the nation in terms of tax dollars, with less than 80 cents on every buck that goes to Washington returning to the state. The primary, with such a large number of senators running, will translate into smart fiscal policy for the state as Washington will start taking a far bigger interest in California issues like funding for port security and levees. Of course, the $100-plus million in TV advertising will be also be windfall to the local TV affiliates (time for Hank Plante and Randy Shandobil to get raises).
- The primary will allow California to influence the public agenda in a way that will complement what has been happening at the state level over the last several years -- California’s leadership on issues like greenhouse emissions, expanded health care coverage, stem cell research, increases in the minimum wage and prescription drugs will be reflected in the policy positions of the candidates and trickle up to Washington, DC.
- Up-and-coming California’s leaders like Nunez, Newsom and Villaraigosa will get major exposure and a national platform. Given the importance and size of the state, a presidential election should not happen where California does not have a leading candidate in the mix. Moving the primary up will greatly increase the chances that after a yet-to-be-determined Democrat leaves the White House in 2016, America’s 45th President will be a California Democrat.
WHAT TO DO IN SAN DIEGO
- Best steak: Donovan's Steakhouse, La Jolla (Owner Dan Shea runs the best joint in town and for those Illini like Team Obama, Balz, Simon, Sweet, Dorning, Thomma, etc. -- Mr. Shea hails from Illinois).
- Best location: George’s at the Cove Rooftop, La Jolla (the peanut butter and chocolate pie is excellent). Take one of the state’s best political operatives and a true renaissance man, Ace Smith, and have him explain the relationship between California politics, the history of Latin American baseball players and classical music.
- Best Italian: Pasquale’s in La Jolla (for those from the 212/917 -- this is not your Paulie Walnuts Italian -- more Mark Fabiani West-Coast-style Italian).
- Best French: Mr. A’s, downtown (this is a good spot to discuss which candidate in the field is the "pinot" of candidates -- thin skinned, sensitive and turns sour when under consistent exposure to light).
- Best taqueria: Rubio’s (great chain favored by Pedro Ragone post-surfing).
- Best watering holes: W Hotel and Solamar rooftop bars (downtown). You will find a distinctly different (not better or worse, just different) crowd in these spots than you will encounter on the convention floor.
- Best quick bite: In-and-Out Burger. Know the secret menu or ask Cardinal Dan Newman for the inside tip.
Things to do
- La Jolla cove and beach (watch Mark Barabak play beach volleyball).
- Midway aircraft carrier where you too can replicate the infamous Bush victory declaration from the deck of the USS Lincoln, which was based out of San Diego in May of 2003 (flight suit, victory banner and cooked-up intel not included).
- LegoLand (inmho beats out the zoo and SeaWorld).
- Bolts Draft Party on Saturday at Charger Park (who to take at 29; trust in AJ).
- Gaslamp District at night (bars, restaurants, etc.).
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