Wednesday, March 07, 2007

California to move presidential primary to February

California to move presidential primary to February

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - Seeking to give voters in the nation's most populous state a greater voice in choosing the next U.S. president, California's state assembly agreed on Tuesday to move its presidential primary to February 2008.

In recent years, California has had little impact in choosing presidential nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties as smaller states such as New Hampshire and Iowa with much earlier contests have taken a leading role.

This year, more than a dozen U.S. states are considering moving their primaries to February 5, 2008, including big states like New Jersey, Florida, Missouri, Michigan and Texas.

The national election to decide who will succeed George W. Bush as president takes place in November 2008.

California's Democratic-dominated assembly voted along party lines by 46 to 28 to move the state's primary from June, a move already backed by the state senate last month.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has said he would sign the legislation, which Republican legislators said they opposed because of the cost to counties.

"We want to let the presidential candidates know: don't come out here just fund-raising," Schwarzenegger told Reuters in an interview last week. "We're going to move the primary up to February and you've got to go answer those questions from the California people and to me."

With expectations rising of an early California primary, prominent candidates including Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republicans Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain have made visits to the state in recent weeks.

If other states also move up their primaries, candidates with lots of money and high visibility may have an advantage.

In past years, once little-known candidates such as Jimmy Carter gained the world's most powerful job after years of shaking hands and retail campaigning across the towns of smaller states with early primaries.

"We deserve it because of our size," California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez told a news conference. "California, as you know, has 16 million voters who ought to get a first bite at that apple, not simply being the recipient of other states' legislative and electoral leftovers."

The earliest primary and caucus contests are to be held in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina prior to February 5.

(With reporting by Jenny O'Mara)