History Of California Presidential Primary
The California Presidential nominating primary, which will be held for 2008 on February 5, has a history that goes back to the Progressive Era. The first California primary was held in 1912.
The Presidential nominating primary, however regressive it may seem at times today, was a Progressive reform. It was step away from the smoke-filled rooms.
California was a big part of the Progressive Era. Progressive Bull Moose candidate Teddy Roosevelt carried California in the 1912 general election and the great Progressive Hiram Johnson was Governor of California from 1911 until 1917 and Senator from 1917 until his death in 1945. Johnson was Teddy Roosevelt’s running mate in 1912.
Over 36 million people live in California. John Kerry won California 54%-44% in 2004.
In that first 1912 primary, Roosevelt defeated incumbent President William Howard Taft of Ohio among Republicans by a 2-1 margin. That gives you a sense of where the Republican electorate of California stood at that point in time.
1912 was long before primaries had the decisive role they do today. It would be 1972 and the years after 1972 that primaries took on the role they play today.
In 1920, California Senator Johnson took the Republican primary over Herbert Hoover. Hoover also has California connections as a Stanford graduate. Senator Johnson objected to Hoover’s position in favor of U.S. entry into the League of Nations and worked hard to deny Hoover the nomination.
Senator Johnson was asked to be Harding’s running mate. He said no. Harding died in 1923 and Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts became President.
Incumbent President Coolidge beat Senator Johnson in the California republican primary of 1924.
The Democratic primary of 1932 was of some note. Reflecting the Southern origins of many California Democrats, House Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas won the primary over New Yorker’s Al Smith, the 1928 Democratic nominee and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Very different from the results you would get today.
Roosevelt selected Garner as his first of his three Vice Presidents.
Mr. Sinclair is most famous for writing The Jungle.
(San Diego is closely contested between the two parties.)
In 1936, 1948 and 1952, Earl Warren was the winner of the California Republican primary.
Try to imagine Mr. Warren as a Republican today!
The future liberal Chief Justice was Governor of California from 1943 until 1953, He was also the running mate of Thomas E. Dewey of New York in 1948.
Warren never won the Republican nomination. Though arguably he got the only job better than President.
For all this time and beyond—from 1912 until 1992— the California primary was held late in the process. Often favorite son candidates, such as Mr. Warren, were the winners.
A favorite son candidate is a statewide figure who runs in the primary and then passes on his delegates at the convention in exchange for an office or for influence.
The 1964 Republican primary brought a clear test of ideological strength within the party. Much like in 1912.
This time though, the right-wing won.
Conservative Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona defeated Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York. Rockefeller was a liberal Republican and the party was badly split in the early 60’s between these competing wings of the party.
The future was with the conservatives as the 1966 election of Ronald Reagan as Governor of California established.
It was on the night of his California 1968 Democratic primary win that Senator Robert Kennedy of New York was assassinated.
The 1972 California democratic primary was significant. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota defeated former Vice President Humbert Humphrey by 44%-39%. Mr. McGovern’s win gained him delegates and momentum that made a difference in taking the nomination.
(The Sacramento area is inclined towards Democrats.)
In 1976, home state candidate Ronald Reagan won a big victory over President Gerald Ford. But the 65%-35% win was not enough for Reagan to win the nomination.
California Democrats in 1980 voted for a slate of delegates committed to liberal Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts over incumbent President Jimmy Carter of Georgia. This provided a sense of what ideological tint held sway among California Democrats.
In 1992, California was the only one of 7 states voting on June 2 that came close to rejecting Bill Clinton of Arkansas. Former California Governor Jerry Brown, fighting to the end, lost 45%–40%. Mr Clinton had pretty much wrapped up the nomination before California.
In 1996, California finally moved its’ primary up to March. ( Please click here for a Texas Liberal history of Super Tuesday Primary Day.) Though all voters did was ratify the foregone conclusions of Bob Dole of Kansas and President Clinton.
California moved up its primary to March 7 for 2000 and March 2 in 2004.
In neither case did the California result make a difference.
(No voting in Death Valley)