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If California moves up its primary, will it hurt Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses?
Iowa Republicans, jealously protective of their first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses, are showing little concern about California's plans to move up its presidential primary in order to be a factor in the presidential nomination process.
'More and more people want to be more relevant,” Republican National Committee member Steve Scheffler said.
Scheffler, who is from Iowa, doubts moving the California primary from June to March will detract from the importance of the Iowa caucuses. Iowans, both Democrats and Republicans, caucused Feb. 1, 2016, and have caucused as early as Jan. 3 in previous election cycles to stay ahead of other states trying to be 'more relevant.”
The California Senate and Assembly have approved separate bills to move the state's primary from June to either the first or the third Tuesday in March. They'll need to agree on one date or the other in order to get a bill signed by the governor.
California lawmakers say the June primary gives voters there little say in choosing presidential nominees. In 2016, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the presumptive nominees before the California primary occurred.
'California has largely been a non-factor when it comes to selecting candidates,” Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Mullin told the Associated Press. Moving the primary would 'enable more Californians to be politically relevant in presidential election cycles.”
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, who recently returned from a meeting of swing-state GOP leaders, said the move by the California Legislature 'has reached the point of getting attention.”
However, he has little concern about Iowa losing its pole position.
Republican National Committee officials, he said, are aware of what it takes to successfully host the first-in-the-nation caucuses.
'They knew exactly what we had done, the money we raised,” Kaufmann said. 'They seem to understand that even though a lot of states think they want to be first-in-the-nation, it took us a million dollars.”
Likewise, Iowa Democratic Party Vice Chairwoman Andrea Phillips said there doesn't seem to be widespread support among Democratic National Committee members for California moving up.
'The case for Iowa is pretty strong,” she said. In 2016, Phillips said Iowa was a 'bellwether for what was happening across the country.
'I'm skeptical (California) will move,” she said.
Attention from the parties' national committees might not be favorable for California. Scheffler noted the Republican National Committee has punished states for arbitrarily moving their primaries and caucuses. In some cases, they haven't been able to seat all of their delegates at the national convention.
'I don't see it as a threat to Iowa. Maybe more of an enhancement for Iowa,” he said.
That's because the attention given to Iowa 'is based on the assumption of a bandwagon effect,” said Chris Larimer, associate professor of political science at University of Northern Iowa. 'If candidates see Iowa as a place to build early and needed momentum, as well as a place where viability can be established, then California's move shouldn't make much of a difference for Iowa.”
It could make doing well in the Iowa caucuses more important, 'in the sense that a candidate would need an early lead or momentum to hit a big state like California,” said Tim Hagle, University of Iowa associate political science professor.
Or, he said, it might force candidates to spend more time and resources in California because of the number of delegates at stake - 551 Democrats and 172 Republicans compared to 51 and 30 for the Iowa parties.
'That could limit the amount of effort they put into Iowa and other early states,” he said.
Hagle agrees with Scheffler that the impact of moving up the California primary may depend on the reaction from the national parties.
'A lot of negotiating goes into the caucus and primary schedule and certainly more states would like to be in the limelight,” he said. 'I can see that a lot of states wouldn't want California to be too determinative very early as it would make their primaries less relevant.”
California isn't the first state to try to become more relevant by scheduling its primary or caucus earlier in the election cycle.
Michigan, Arizona and Florida are among those that have moved or considered moving up their primaries to lessen the impact of the Iowa caucuses on the nomination process, according to Drake University political science Professor Dennis Goldford.
'But attempting to do so by holding their own events earlier and earlier actually makes Iowa more important,” Goldford said. 'The compressed schedule gives candidates failing to meet expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire less time to recover, while the compression makes it easier for candidates doing better than expected early on to hide or postpone revelation of any hidden weaknesses they may have.”
In the end, it might not be the parties or legislators who determine the impact of California's potential move on Iowa, Goldford said.
'There's a symbiotic relationship between the press and the candidates,” he said. 'As long as the press thinks the Iowa caucuses are important, the candidates will think they're important. And as long as the candidates think the caucuses are important, the press will think they're important.”
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