- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

The stroke of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pen yesterday made California a player in deciding the presidential candidates next year.

“Now California is important again in presidential nominating politics,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said, as he signed a bill that moves the state’s presidential primaries up to Feb. 5 from its previous June date. “And we will get the respect that California deserves.”

Now, the big question for Republicans is whether the campaigns of Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani will succeed in getting the state Republican Party to open its presidential primary to independent voters.

Both men appeal to independents — voters who handed Mr. McCain an upset victory over George W. Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire primary.

To the consternation of many Republicans, rich and powerful forces in California have been maneuvering to change the rules so that voters with no commitment to the party can influence the choice of nominee.

The campaigns of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, both of whom have espoused conservative social and economic views and do not need to rely on liberal-minded independents, oppose allowing non-Republicans to vote in the California Republican presidential primary.

“Republicans want their party’s nomination process to be a reflection of members of the Republican Party. I expect there to be a natural aversion from party activists to allow folks not registered in the party to influence the process,” Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said.

“The current primary structure in California favors our ability to work congressional districts with our organization and to secure the votes and the delegates to win,” Mr. Madden said.

Nomination hopefuls will be able to campaign in any or all of the state’s 53 congressional districts. The winner in each district is awarded all three delegates from that district to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul in September.

The tightly controlled Giuliani campaign wasn’t answering any questions yesterday about rules opening the primary in California or the Feb. 5 move. Mr. Giuliani’s California campaign chairman Bill Simon this week declined in a brief telephone conversation to discuss the Giuliani campaign or any rules changes.

“Rudy Giuliani is the Republican candidate who can win California in both the primary and general elections,” Giuliani campaign manager Mike DuHaime said in an e-mailed statement. “The mayor’s record as a proven problem solver continues to resonate with California voters.”

Ron Nehring, the state Republican chairman, said yesterday that he has not taken a position on whether to open the Republican primary to independents but that if a move to do that comes up at the September state party convention, he would make sure it “gets a fair hearing.”

At least 19 other states also are moving their contests to Feb. 5, making the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries that take place before that date either less or more important, depending on the political calculus that various election analysts use.

“I’m sure the California primary increases its stature compared to past cycles,” said Iowa Republican Executive Director Chuck Laudner. “However, the advantage in California goes to candidates that have piles of cash. In Iowa the advantage goes to grass-roots efforts.”

“The gains California makes in moving to Feb. 5 are diminished by picking a date shared by 20-plus other states,” Mr. Laudner said.

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