Fourteen Democratic presidential candidates will campaign in the same state this weekend.
Iowa? New Hampshire? Nope. They’re all coming to California.
The state moved its primary up from June to March, so vote-by-mail ballots will be sent the same day as the Iowa caucuses. And Democrats will gather Friday at their party’s state convention in San Francisco, where they’ll hear over the weekend from roughly two-thirds of the candidates challenging President Trump.
The Golden State has long set the policy agenda for other blue states, but it’s rarely played any role in presidential campaigns — other than its regular service as the nation’s most lucrative fundraising destination.
With its earlier primary, Democratic dominance and the most delegates of any state, it’s helping to shape the 2020 presidential race, too.
Just check out the issues Democrats are talking about in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail:
“Health care is a fundamental right, and we will deliver that right with Medicare for all!” California’s own senator, Kamala Harris, said to loud applause at her January kickoff rally in Oakland. “I am running to declare education is a fundamental right, and we will guarantee that right with universal pre-K and debt-free college.”
Sound familiar? In his State of the State address earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for single-payer health care, state-funded health care for young adult immigrants living in California illegally, and “major initiatives like paid sick leave, universal preschool, free community college.”
And look at what California’s done at the state Capitol over the past few years: Sanctuary state. Cap and trade. Health care for children living in the state illegally.
Those issues have all drawn attention in other states and the presidential race.
The state’s leaders make no apologies for pushing the envelope. In an interview with CapRadio earlier this spring, Newsom said he’s proud of his state “holding its own.”
“We’re substituting, I think, for leadership at a time when we have a president who’s abdicated leadership,” the governor said. “He’s going in a completely different direction than this state.”
Some proposals that started in California have spread to the rest of the country — especially environmental policies. Others, like the push for universal health care and the state’s employment laws, have not.
“People throughout the country don’t always say California’s the trendsetter,” said California Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg. “They say those people in California are a little crazy with some of their ideas.”
Zaremberg calls his state the “test tube” for the rest of the nation. He says California’s policies are costing residents more in the short term — and it’s not yet clear which ones, if any, will pay for themselves down the road.
“I wouldn’t say California’s adopted the Green New Deal. But I would say California’s adopted elements of it,” he said. “And certainly, in some cases, the benefits are worth the cost. But we have to make sure that, in all cases, the benefits equal the costs.”
Republicans argue California’s blue-state agenda will help them paint Democrats as extreme.
“You're going to see candidates that are pushed further and further to an agenda that is not consistent with even California, I believe — but the overall country,” California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Patterson told CapRadio in a recent interview.
But Dana Williamson, a top aide to former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, disagrees.
“I don’t think that California’s necessarily pushing any of the candidates to the left,” she said. “I think the issues that we’ve been talking about for a long time are issues that are now resonating in other parts of the country, and so they’re talking about it more.”
Williamson thinks most voters will search for their own balance between policy views and electability, “because you can support somebody who’s got no support and you’re gonna end up with Donald Trump in office, and I don’t think anybody wants that.”
Most of the Democratic field will speak at this weekend’s California Democratic Party convention, but there’s a conspicuous absence: Former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s been skipping state party events like this one, instead plans to campaign in Ohio.