SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California will move its presidential primary from June to March under a bill signed on Wednesday by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, a change aimed at giving the liberal-leaning state more influence in choosing candidates from either national party.
The most populous U.S. state, which voted heavily for Democrat Hillary Clinton in November’s presidential election, has traditionally held its primary so late that Democratic and Republican voters in other states had essentially already chosen their parties’ candidates.
“The Golden State will no longer be relegated to last place in the presidential nominating process,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat who backed the change, in a statement. “Candidates will not be able to ignore the largest, most diverse state in the nation as they seek our country’s highest office.”
The bill was passed mostly along party lines in the majority-Democrat legislature.
The new date will leave the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in place as the first and second contests of the presidential election cycle, during which voters in each state choose the candidate they would like their party to nominate for president.
Because California’s primary has been in June while others were held earlier, candidates have largely ignored the state, spending less on outreach than elsewhere, making fewer visits, and failing to prioritize California voters’ concerns in their campaigns, supporters said.
In 2016, California Democrats chose Clinton and Republicans opted for Donald Trump, the populist businessman who ultimately won the presidency.
Backers in the legislature said the early primary would lead to less divisive choices by members of both major parties in the 2020 election cycle, and establish California as a leading voice in the choice of candidates.
Progressive Democrats also believe that moving the primary up could result in their party’s selection of more liberal candidates.
“California is the beating heart of the national resistance to Trump, and California Democrats are defining the progressive agenda for America,” state Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman said in a press release. “When it comes to deciding the Democratic nominee, our voices need to be heard early in the process.”
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Richard Chang