Opinion

West Coast 2020 primary sounds super

Supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire, cheer as Donald Trump is declared the projected Republican winner of the New Hampshire primary in February 2016. California, Washington and Oregon are angling to move closer to the front of the primary pack in 2020 so that states like New Hampshire don’t have such outsized influence.
Supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire, cheer as Donald Trump is declared the projected Republican winner of the New Hampshire primary in February 2016. California, Washington and Oregon are angling to move closer to the front of the primary pack in 2020 so that states like New Hampshire don’t have such outsized influence. NYT file photo

California lawmakers, knowing that it’s never too early to plan for 2020, took an important step last week that their Washington peers would be wise to follow. They passed legislation to make America’s most populous state more than an afterthought in presidential election campaigns.

Leaders in the Golden State intend to move up California’s presidential primary date a full three months, from June 2 to March 3. The change, if signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would create momentum for future Super Tuesdays to take on a distinctly West Coast flavor. (Move over Iowa, New Hampshire and other early-voting states with outsized influence.)

Washington and Oregon election officials are already talking about joining California, which would instantly alter the strategic playbook of the next election. Candidates would have to take a break from the Midwest fairgrounds circuit and travel to our time zone; they’d have to study up and address issues that matter dearly to us, such as immigration, Pacific Rim trade and climate change. Whoever is elected president might even feel obliged to act on some of those issues.

This tectonic shift in the election calendar would also create an aggravation, if not an outright threat, to President Trump — a shot across the bow by California Democrats who want to derail his chances of winning a second term, however far off and farfetched that might seem.

Anti-Trump sentiment aside, there are good reasons for us to join the effort. When Washington legislators reconvene in January, they should vote to move up our late-May primary by a couple of calendar pages. The change would be beneficial for the Evergreen state, regardless of political affiliations.

Kim Wyman, Washington’s Republican secretary of state, has been making the rounds this summer, lobbying for an earlier presidential primary as her top priority for the 2018 legislative session. Her counterpart in Oregon, Dennis Richardson, also a Republican, has likewise voiced support for moving Oregon’s May primary to March.

“If we could all go on the same day, that’s huge,” Wyman told The Daily News of Longview on Monday, referring to a unified West Coast primary. “Then I think we’ll get attention from those national candidates who will actually come here and do more than just fundraise.”

It will take more than legislative action to make us relevant, however. The state Democratic Party must agree to use primary results to apportion at least some of its convention delegates, as state Republicans already do. After last year’s embarrassing caucus backlash in Tacoma and other places, the Dems would be foolish not to play ball.

Trump, incidentally, ran away with Washington’s GOP primary last year (75 percent of the vote), while Hillary Clinton edged Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side (with 53 percent). Those results were mirrored in Pierce County. Less than six months later, Clinton beat Trump decisively in Washington, 54-38 percent.

If our state primary had been held closer to the front of the pack, would the results have differed much? It’s hard to say. But at least we would’ve seen and heard more from the candidates — a full field of them, before they dropped like characters in an Agatha Christie novel.

The 2016 primary cost Washington taxpayers $12 million and mattered little. The 2012 primary was canceled, cost nothing and mattered less.

We can do better than either of those bad alternatives. Let’s press legislative and party leaders to embrace an earlier presidential primary date, sooner rather than later.

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