Tuesday, February 19, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- The Difficulties in Harris Locking Down California

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the days that were...

It is not any secret that the Kamala Harris campaign is making every effort to make the senator's home state of California its strategic centerpiece.

There is no lack of elected Democratic officials in the Golden state, and Harris has rolled out a steady drip, drip, drip of endorsements from statewide office-holders to those in the state legislature. In addition, her campaign is stocked with those seasoned in California politics. And it should be noted that her home state is a known ATM for Democratic presidential nomination fundraising; one where Harris has already shown some promise.

In sum, that is a recipe -- home state with a natural fundraising base and elected officials and campaign staff are eager to get on board -- for an attempt at warding off the competition.

But, of course, that is much easier said than done. While Team Harris is attempting to make California in 2020 to her what Iowa was to Tom Harkin in 1992, that is no small task.


For starters, Harris is not to California now what Harkin was to Iowa in 1992: an experienced legislator. That has its pros and cons in presidential nomination politics to be sure. More importantly, however, California is not Iowa. There are too many delegates there for other campaigns to leave on the table; to cede outright to Harris. That will draw other campaigns in, but to what extent?

From the perspective of Sean Clegg, a strategist with the Harris campaign, the forecast looks something like this:
"We believe the early primary, early voting, and the cost of communicating will make it virtually impossible for all but the top two or three candidates to play in the state in a meaningful way."
There is a finite amount of money floating around out there, and two to three candidates (including Harris) making a legitimate statewide push in California sounds about right. Others may make a play at some specific congressional district delegates in the state, but that is a tougher move that requires the type of targeting, the know-how of which may be concentrated in only a few campaigns (the most resourced).

But that is the way to "beat" Harris in California: a serious challenger or two and a death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy from others. The goal? To minimize any significant delegate advantage the junior California senator takes from the state.

The last two competitive Democratic presidential nomination cycles have seen candidates establish small but durable delegate advantages early on. Obama in 2008 used a caucus strategy along with a post-Super Tuesday winning streak through the remainder of February to develop a lead in the delegate count that he never relinquished. Similarly, Clinton's strength among African American voters in the 2016 SEC primary states laid the groundwork for a delegate lead that never really contracted between her and Sanders.

If one is in the Harris campaign, then, California is absolutely part of a path of least resistance to a similar delegate advantage (assuming there are also victories -- actual or relative to expectations -- in the early states). But that sort of 80-100 delegate advantage in California alone is unlikely. In the past, it has required the winning candidate to approach or exceed 60 percent of the vote statewide in a contest with a significantly winnowed field. Now, strange things -- atypical to past nomination cycles -- may occur with a less winnowed field and a 15 percent threshold stretched across the allocation of statewide and congressional district delegates.

However, even if the opposition to Harris is able to minimize the delegates she gains from the Golden state any advantage may play into a larger delegate acquisition elsewhere on Super Tuesday. And if other candidates are drawn to spend money to close the gap with Harris in California, then those are resources not being spent elsewhere. It is that zero-sum game that provides Harris with a structural, calendar-based advantage at this point.

But it is an advantage that probably cannot hold up or be fully realized without some success first in February. And that success is built during the invisible primary.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Announcements: Sanders is in, skipping the exploratory phase counter to previous reporting. Weld is exploring on the Republican side. Tammy Baldwin is not running. Merkley signals that perhaps he is inching away from a White House bid.

2. #MoneyPrimary: Sanders has also joined the group of candidates who, after launch, have quickly taken in donations from all 50 states. Bullock's PAC has done some limited spending in the early states. Brown becomes the latest Democrat to shun corporate PAC money. One outside group is working to insure that a black candidate is on the Democratic ticket.

3. #StaffPrimary: Klobuchar adds staff in Iowa. And she is not the only one with a budding team in the Hawkeye state. Iowa is not the only early state where there is a battle for staff. South Carolina is witnessing its own race for campaign talent. Campaigns are looking beyond the first states too. Bringing on staff in California is a signal of the intricacies the Golden state adds to the early half of the 2020 calendar.

4. #EndorsementPrimary: Harris continues to notch notable California endorsements, adding the support of Gov. Newsom, Rep. Lee and activist, Delores Huerta. Delaney continues a small scale build up by adding more county chair endorsements in Iowa. And the chase is on for the endorsements of the newest members of Congress; the newest superdelegates.

5. Travelogue: Candidates spent quite a bit of time in Iowa and New Hampshire over the long the Presidents Day weekend. Among the candidates who have not been to either of the first two states yet, Bennet will make his maiden trip this week to Iowa.  Jim Clyburn's daughter has become a go-to shepherd for candidates trekking to South Carolina.

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