California on frontline in 2020 presidential battle

US President Donald Trump has been bombarded with lawsuits by California over his policies. (Reuters pic)

LOS ANGELES: California has been a thorn in President Donald Trump’s side ever since he took office, challenging him at every turn.

The liberal-leaning and most populous state in America never seems to tire from filing lawsuits against his policies, whether on immigration, climate issues or abortion.

Now, it is gearing up to play an even bigger role in the 2020 general election by moving up its primary vote to March 3, the earliest date possible.

Previously, the delegate-rich state was all but an afterthought in presidential primaries. This is because by the time its June primary vote took place, the nominations for either party – Republican and Democrat – were all but locked in.

“I think those that made the decision in California to shift the date saw that as a way of elevating the state that had been upfront about its resistance to some of the things the Trump administration is pursuing,” said Josh Putnam, lecturer in the Department of Public and International Affairs at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

“This will put California voters in a position of standing up to the Trump administration early on, at least in choosing who may face off against him in the November 2020 general elections.”

The new date puts California on equal footing with other states that hold their presidential primary on what is known as Super Tuesday.

Impact Latino vote

And given that California has an early voting system, ballots will start being mailed to voters 30 days before the primary, which coincides with the all-important caucuses in Iowa, the state that votes first in the nominating process.

“In the past, by the time Californians voted in the primaries, the nominee was almost certainly identified and that won’t be the case in the 2020 election,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“With a push up of the California primary earlier in the cycle, you get a ton of delegate votes and that will certainly sway who the Democratic nominee is,” she added.

Eight other states, including Texas – the second most populous state – will be holding primaries on the same day as California, with the results setting the tone for who might win the nomination at the national conventions and who might flop.

Experts say the calendar change in California could play in favour of any Democratic nominees from the state, giving them more visibility early on in the campaign. So far, Senator Kamala Harris, a staunch Trump opponent, is the only homegrown Democratic presidential contender.

Putnam cautioned, however, that any advantage for California-based candidates might be limited as victory hinges on them doing well in four other early-voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

“When California has moved up the primary like this in the past, it has tended to amplify the result coming out of those early states,” he said. “I strongly suspect that that’s going to be the case this time.

Diaz said the calendar change in California will also impact the vote of minorities in the state, notably the Latino vote.

“The Latino vote and the Latino electorate is poised to be critical for any successful candidate on the Democratic side,” she said.

“We saw in the 2018 mid-term elections, the Latino electorate increased the ballots cast from 2014 to 2018 in remarkable numbers across the country.”

‘What America is becoming’

Also adding to California’s allure, especially for Democrats, is the fact that the state, which boasts at having the fifth largest economy in the world, is home to some of the country’s most prolific donors and has positioned itself as one of the president’s most fervent opponents.

“Although Trump comes here to raise money from some very wealthy donors from the Republican Party, he also sees California as an example of what America should not be,” Diaz said. “And I think that he does that because of the fear that that is precisely what America is becoming.”