Schwarzenegger signs law to move up primary

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - Seeking to give Californians a voice in choosing the next U.S. presidential candidates, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law on Thursday a bill to move the presidential primary election in the nation’s most populous state to February 2008.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at a news conference following a meeting with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on combating crime and gang violence in the Los Angeles area in Monterey Park, March 5, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

“Moving up the primary from June to February gives California the influence it deserves in choosing the next presidential candidates,” Schwarzenegger said at a news conference to commemorate the bill’s signing.

In recent years, California has had little impact in choosing presidential nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties because they have selected early in the primary process and there is no race left by June.

This year, many U.S. states are considering moving their primaries to February 5, 2008, including other big states such as New Jersey, Florida, Missouri, Michigan and Texas.

“Holding presidential primaries in June used to mean nominees were locked (up) before we ever had a chance to vote,” Schwarzenegger complained. “Those days are over.”

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

Earlier this month, California’s Democratic-dominated assembly voted along party lines by 46 to 28 to move the state’s primary to February 5 from June of 2008, a move already backed by the state senate.

With expectations rising of an early California primary, prominent candidates from both parties have made visits to the state in recent weeks, California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez told the same news conference.

In the past, candidates came to California to raise money, not seek primary votes.

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

With so many delegates to the nominating conventions at stake early in the year, the nominees could be known by mid-February. On the other hand, the vote could be spread out between two or more candidates so that they would have to slog through the spring fighting it out for the few remaining delegates.

Reporting by Jenny O’Mara