BARRING a major surprise, the nation's largest state will move its presidential primary from 50th (first week in June) to 31st (fourth week in March), smack in the middle of presidential sweepstakes season.
After years of wrangling, the measure, known informally as the Political Reporters Relief Act, passed the Legislature last week, and Gov. Pete Wilson (R) is expected to sign it within days. By nearly every account, the new law has the potential to reshape the national political landscape when it takes effect in 1996.
``This really shoots California ahead in the presidential selection process,'' says Sherry Jeffe, a political scientist at the Claremont Graduate School in Pomona, Calif. ``Though it doesn't give the state total power in selecting nominees, no candidate without money, organization, and name recognition here will be able to continue the race without doing well in California.''
Many political pundits say the California move could prompt steps by such populous states as Pennsylvania, Texas, and New York to move their primaries ahead as well to regain lost clout. Others think the law could be the first step toward a single, national primary date. The move is expected to benefit Iowa and New Hampshire, which have the earliest races, by lending more importance to early winners there. It is expected to hurt Illinois (mid-March) and New York (early April) by stealing thunder from each.
Analysts north and south are already gauging winners and losers within the state. California politicians will see their stock rise if they are chosen for a national ticket - Governor Wilson if he is reelected, for instance, or current Democratic opponents Kathleen Brown or John Garamendi. Because the state has a history of nominating fringe candidates - those who are seen as outside the mainstream of both parties - conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are expected to gain.
Depending on where he stands in 1996, President Clinton could receive a boost or a knockout. If he is weak in the polls here, the state would represent a handy tool for a liberal challenge such as Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D) 1976 push against then President Carter. If he continues his frequent forays into the state, an early primary win in California could help knock out other party rivals.
Winners for the dozens of open seats in primaries will have an extended election season, from March to November instead of June to November. `It's going to cost a lot more to run for office in this state,'' says Professor Jeffe. ``And it already costs a lot.''
Child Care-Welfare Link
A shortage of child care may jeopardize President Clinton's plans to reform welfare, according to a study by researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
``The Unfair Search for Child Care,'' the first survey on the availability of child care and preschools nationwide, found that families in working-class suburbs, the rural Midwest, and the South have the greatest difficulty finding child care.
``Many impoverished mothers - who are increasingly being pushed to find a job or lose welfare benefits - will simply not be able to find child care and thus not be able to leave the welfare rolls,'' says Bruce Fuller, co-author of the study. ``It will either knock the legs out of the administration's proposals or force women to migrate to areas of the country where support services are more plentiful.''
A recent study by the Children's Defense Fund documents the urgent need for more child care. In Florida, more than 19,000 parents are on waiting lists for child care, and 6,000 parents are on waiting lists in Minnesota. Shortages are most acute in cities.
In what researchers call ``the yuppie supply effect,'' the 80,000 preschools operating in the United States are concentrated in affluent communities. Families in wealthy urban counties of the Northeast have 50 percent more preschools per capita than parents residing in nearby low-income areas, the Harvard study found. ``Unequal access to preschooling directly contributes to children's poor performance in early schooling,'' Mr. Fuller says. ``We need to develop child care in balanced ways so that these disparities are reduced.''