How Much Has the California Primary Mattered in the Past?

How Much Has the California Primary Mattered in the Past?

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Credit…Dick Strobel/Associated Press

Good morning.

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Today, we’re starting with a dispatch from my colleague Marie Tae McDermott about California’s influence in the presidential primaries, and how it’s changed over time:

This year, California joins the group of states voting on Super Tuesday, March 3, with officials hoping that the state and its trove of 500 Democratic delegates will play a decisive role in the nominating process. However, history shows us that California’s effect on the presidential race has fluctuated over time, from Barry Goldwater’s win in 1964 to disappointment among supporters of Bernie Sanders in 2016.

To find out more about that history and why dates matter, I talked to Andrew E. Busch, director of the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College.

Which presidential primaries in California were especially close?

Probably the first one that was really significant was in 1964. Barry Goldwater was running against Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination, and Goldwater was coming off a defeat in the Oregon primary. Rockefeller seemed to be leading in California but Goldwater mobilized 50,000 volunteers and wound up winning the California primary, 52 to 48 percent. It was a really close race, and it basically sealed Goldwater’s nomination.

On the Democratic side, in 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was running against Eugene McCarthy. It was a very tragic primary. Kennedy defeated McCarthy by a close margin of 46 to 42 percent, but right after he gave his victory speech in Los Angeles he was assassinated.

What about in recent elections?

There was one year in particular that I would say was important, although it didn’t lead to the winner’s nomination, and that was 2008. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary about 52 to 43 percent over Barack Obama. Of course, Obama ended up getting the nomination later, but by winning, Clinton proved she was in the race to stay. She was not going to get knocked out early. It really presaged that long battle that went back and forth for quite a while.

In 2016, Clinton beat Bernie Sanders, 53 to 46 percent, in California but there was some controversy over it because The Associated Press declared that Clinton had enough delegates to be nominated the night before the California primary. There were a lot of Sanders supporters that felt that this undercut Sanders and possibly depressed his turnout.


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  • Mexicans have been leaving the U.S. in growing numbers in recent years. It’s part of a trend that began even before President Trump took office that has led to the lowest undocumented population in 15 years. Poles and South Koreans are also leaving. [The New York Times]

  • A Solano County resident who was receiving medical care in Sacramento County tested positive for the coronavirus in what officials say is the first known infection without a known link to travel abroad. [The New York Times]

  • The spread of misinformation about the virus is prompting racist attacks. [CNN]

  • Even without an active local case, Orange County officials declared a local health emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak. [The Orange County Register]

Federal officials are urging schools and hospitals to take precautions. We want to hear from you about how your or your child’s school is responding. Click here for the form.

  • The Republican Party lost seven congressional seats in California in 2018. Here’s how they’re trying to win them back. [The Los Angeles Times]

Read more about how Orange County, long a Republican stronghold, turned blue in 2018. [The New York Times]

  • California’s housing agency is struggling to keep up with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s big goals. [The Sacramento Bee]

  • How worried should we be about the lack of rain? Experts say, comparatively speaking, it’s not great. [SF Gate]

  • A fire at a refinery in Carson could cause gas prices to spike statewide. The city’s mayor criticized the response to the blaze, too, saying residents should have gotten better advice about what to do. [The Daily Breeze]

Read more about what causes California gas prices to go up. [The New York Times]

  • A San Diego judge ruled that Instacart is failing to comply with the state’s new gig labor law by misclassifying its employees as independent contractors. [The San Diego Union-Tribune]

  • Orange County School of the Arts is known for sending alumni on to Hollywood careers. But it’s a public charter school with admissions determined by auditions. And the people who get in don’t look very much like the Santa Ana school district it’s a part of. [LAist]

  • Facebook, which has spent years preparing for the 2020 election, has been caught off-guard by Michael Bloomberg’s campaign. The campaign has been paying popular memers and confounding social media companies’ ad policies. [The New York Times]

  • Meet Groot, the hero golden retriever who helped find the couple lost in the woods for a week near Inverness. [The San Francisco Chronicle]


Listen, I don’t make the rules: When I come across adorable animal news, I’m obligated to share it with you.

So here, friends, is a story from The San Luis Obispo Tribune, about a mother otter in Morro Bay who got herself stuck in a man-made rock sea wall called a riprap, separated from her pup, on Sunday morning.

Mike Harris, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, was called in to help. Mom otter was extricated. Pup was tossed — gently — back to her. An adorable otter pup face was made. And all was right.

The full story is here, and you can see the play-by-play captured by a local photographer.


California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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