Does Early Primary Mean California Will See More Presidential Candidates?

California's early primary on February 5 means it's more likely presidential candidates will pay early visits to the Golden State, but how can California best capitalize on those face-to-face encounters? KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde concludes her three-part series on what folks in New Hampshire can teach Californians about an early primary.

Kitty Felde: If you talk to just about anyone on the streets of New Hampshire, they'll tell you they're going to a Rudolph Giuliani house party, or they shook Bill Richardson's hand the other day. Cal State Fullerton political science professor Raphe Sonenshein says some California voters thought the same thing would happen here, once we moved our primary up to the 5th of February.

Raphe Sonenshein: Californians, we get our expectations up pretty high. We're going from being completely ignored to saying "How come you have never shaken my hand? That I've never met Obama personally?"

Felde: Sonenshein says the reality is that most California voters will meet candidates in their living rooms, on TV.

Sonenshein: The odds of seeing a campaign commercial from one of these candidates has gone up a great deal.

Felde: Jon Greenberg, Executive Editor of political coverage for New Hampshire Public Radio, says unfortunately, that's the reality in his state, too.

Jon Greenberg: For all the stuff about, in New Hampshire, it's small scale, people get to see the candidates, a lot of times when you talk to voters and you ask them what is it that they know about the candidates, what they know is from what they've seen on the ads.

Felde: But some lucky voters in both New Hampshire and even in California will have the opportunity to meet the candidates face to face and ask a question. Jon Greenberg brags that New Hampshire voters have developed a skill set over the years that makes them experts. He offers this advice for Californians who might have the opportunity for a close encounter of the political kind:

Greenberg: Really think in terms of what question you would want to put to that candidate. And I would encourage people, don't think of the basic issue type question. All the answers are out there, they're on the Web site; you're not going to get anything new. So go someplace else. Go somewhere else you think matters and hasn't been covered to death.

[Sound of "The Exchange" show and music]

Felde: Laura Knoy asks questions for a living. She's host of New Hampshire Public Radio's morning talk show, "The Exchange." Knoy's advice is the same as the Boy Scout's: Be prepared.

Laura Knoy: Do your homework before you go to an event and ask a question, because that makes the whole process more valid and respectable. And candidates respect that, they appreciate voters doing their homework.

[Sound of Magic Johnson introducing Hillary Clinton]

Felde: Last month, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton joined Magic Johnson and Mayor Villaraigosa at King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in South Los Angeles. Sixteen-year-old Imogene Williams is president of her junior class and dreams of becoming a neurologist. She got to ask Senator Clinton a question.

[Sound of Imogene Williams asking Senator Clinton what her administration plans to do about "the discrimination and unequal education opportunities that still exist in our schools and school districts."]

Felde: Williams was too nervous to remember Clinton's answer, but she did remember the rest of the Senator's stump speech.

Williams: She was talking a lot about, you know, health care, and she was talking about , you know, our young African American and Latino men and how she planned on having outreach programs for them.

Felde: But it was the face-to-face contact, more than the position papers, that left an impression with Imogene Williams.

Williams: She was actually really nice. Like, when I went up there, she was like "Hello," and I was like, "Hi," and then when I was done, she gave me a hug, and then I went back to my seat. So it was actually pretty cool.

Felde: Despite the personal contact, Williams says she's still torn between supporting Hillary Clinton and her other favorite candidate, Barack Obama. Williams never met Obama, but she did listen to his "Audacity of Hope" speech on the Internet.

Williams (sighing): I don't know. It's really hard. I know it's going to be hard for voters to choose this year. It's a really tough decision to make, I think.

Felde: But it's a decision Imogene Williams won't have to make this time around. She's still not old enough to vote.

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