Vote Early and Often: California Wins in the Early Primary

01/16/2008 04:41 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last year at this time, CNN ran a piece about the Courage Campaign's petition drive to move the California presidential primary forward from June to February 5th. Many doubted that our premise would be born out, namely that by having California competitive in the presidential primary, we might actually have a say in policy formulation and make long term political alliances that would benefit the state, not just export money to finance campaigns in other states.

Put simply, we were right. After the tumult of Iowa and New Hampshire and Michigan, followed Saturday by a first-ever caucus in Nevada and then an election in South Carolina, California has become a key "battleground" state for all of the leading candidates. While no one, least of all the pollsters, has a clue what will happen, the people of California have already won.

I remember four years ago, when as the Chair of the Dean Campaign in California, we could but sit and watch as Iowa and New Hampshire and then Arizona and New Mexico, decided that John Kerry would be the nominee. Not this year.

Last Friday, Senator Clinton visited East Los Angeles as the venue for a major policy speech on an economic recovery package. She was not in Arizona or New Mexico; she was right here, in the county with the most registered Democrats of any in the nation. Flanking her was the ever smiling Mayor Villaraigosa together with Speaker Fabian Nunez. And behind them was a gaggle of elected officials who undoubtedly went home with bruised ribs from elbowing each other to get in the picture next to the candidate. She has opened at least three offices in the state and her campaign team says she'll win the "ground game" here, something no one even tried in 2004.

(Even long time Clinton surrogate and hatchet man Chris Lehane, who would rather have his name in a news story than eat dinner, has been noticeably quiet. As you may recall, Chris Lehane was hired by the studios at the clip of $100,000 a month to break the WGA strike; perhaps the Clinton apparatus finally understands that the senator cannot effectively cultivate organized labor support while a family retainer is out selling his contacts in the media and politics to try to destroy everything for which organized labor stands.)

Senator Obama has held rallies up and down the state. He's due back here tonight for an already sold out fundraiser. But he also has a real campaign here. LA City Council President Eric Garcetti, one of his state co-chairs, tells me that the campaign has seven offices open. Former Dean organizer Buffy Wicks runs the field operation here and has already recruited and trained over 4,000 precinct captains. Steve Phillips, who has long championed greater political access for communities of color, founded a 527 called Vote Hope to engage those communities on behalf of Senator Obama and to keep building beyond the election.

Sal Rosselli, president of United Healthcare Workers West whose 150,000 member local voted to back Senator Edwards, tells me that Senator Edwards will be in LA for a rally at noon on Thursday with SEIU State Council President Anelle Grajeda and others. This follows a slew of visits to California by Senator Edwards, who is the conscience of this race. He was in Fresno, walked picket lines and spoke often about the inequalities that must be bridged in order to restore America's greatness. While the Edwards campaign does not have a permanent presence here, his West Coast fundraiser, Terri New, doubles as organizer, leading teams to Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

The CNN/LA Times poll yesterday showed that Senator Clinton leads in California with 47%, followed by Senator Obama with 31% and Senator Edwards with 10%. We only have to look to New Hampshire to understand the accuracy of the paid pollsters these days; the voters will decide based on what their friends and family say, not based on the media or paid ads.

Admittedly, I know far less about what is happening with the Republicans, but know they care so deeply about California that Governor Huckabee's campaign manager, Ed Rollins, has been leading the dirty trick initiative designed to steal 20 or so Electoral College votes for the Republicans. While we managed to keep that initiative off of the June ballot, Mr. Rollins still hopes it'll be back for November, dmonstrating clearly how the Republicans plan to use their skills in the dark arts over coming months. Regardless, expect to see more of Senator McCain, Governor Huckabee, Mayor Giuliani and Governor Romney, newly excited by his win in Michigan. They all need California to win the nomination.

Because this is all about delegates, we'll almost certainly have multiple winners from California. The Democrats give convention delegates to every candidate that achieves 15% or more from any congressional district. That means that a statewide poll that shows one candidate way ahead may not accurately predict the delegate count, which is the only count that elects the nominee. And it also means this race may go on well past February 5th.

The California primary has already transformed politics in this state. The residual from statewide organizing is evergreen. Because the candidates are actually building campaigns here, we have a huge opportunity in this state to take on the fundamental issues that hobble us and that our government refuses to address. Only through people power from outside of the system - and that means from the sorts of voters who are joining together for their various candidates--can we hope to fix the mess that Proposition 13 created thirty years ago, the result of an initiative system of "citizen government" that has run amok.

The Courage Campaign is running an online poll as an attempt to engage progressives up and down the state for whomever they choose. Unlike those who poll for a living, we do not pretend to be scientific. We seek to encourage opinion leaders to talk to their own social networks about the candidates. That's the best way to learn and ultimately the most effective way to persuade. Together with our partners in Ohio, Colorado, Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin, we've created an online horse race of sorts that requires people to convince their friends to vote. So far in California, Obama and Edwards are very close for first place, with Clinton and Kucinich working for third and fourth. But as we know, anything can happen.

"Tsunami Tuesday" is three weeks away, but we already know that progressives in our state have won by moving the primary forward.