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When was the last time California mattered in a presidential primary? "Probably Bobby Kennedy," said Kip Cassino, executive vice president of research at Borrell Associates, which tracks and consults on media spending.
For decades, the Golden State has been the 800-pound irrelevant gorilla on the West Coast, a place where the primary was an afterthought in the race for the White House. Until Hillary Clinton was named the Democrats' presumptive nominee on Monday night, the potentially close contest between the former secretary of state and Bernie Sanders forced both candidates to start spending money in a state where no one expected much campaigning, especially this early.
Just ahead of Tuesday's primary, both Democratic candidates started running TV ads in California. Clinton even bought radio spots and did local radio interviews.
But her spending lags her rival. NBC News reports Sanders has spent about $1.3 million on ads in California, with most of that money — nearly $1 million — buying time in the Los Angeles market, where he is outspending Clinton by 2 to 1. Clinton has spent around $900,000 in California, outspending Sanders in upscale markets like Santa Barbara and Monterey.
Then there's the divide in the money coming into the campaigns, especially from Hollywood, where celebrities are facing off in a far more public battle than the split during the 2008 Clinton-Obama contest. The Los Angeles Times has been tracking each candidate's celebrity endorsers. Team Clinton includes everyone from Katy Perry to Tony Bennett to Brian Cranston to Viola Davis. The Sanders camp includes Spike Lee, Rosario Dawson, Patton Oswalt and Dick Van Dyke.
Then there's the strange surprise of seeing presidential candidates appear at key events and iconic venues in the state. Sanders popped up at a Golden State Warriors game, and made headlines visiting the state's most beloved burger chain, In-N-Out (former President Bill Clinton visited another In-N-Out the same day).
Californians are not used to being cajoled and courted like voters in Iowa or New Hampshire.
They'd better get used to it, because it won't end Tuesday.
Cassino said Donald Trump hasn't spent a lot of money — yet — advertising in states like California, New York or New Jersey, "But I think he believes he's going to win some of them." Clinton versus Trump could make California a battleground. Pandora's head of sales, Sean Duggan, told CNBC, "We are already seeing buying activity happen for the fall, given our reach of almost 10 million monthly voting-age listeners in California."
This will mean ad time that might usually go to local candidates or propositions, like one seeking to legalize recreational marijuana, may get pushed out to cable, or radio. Ad rates could go higher, helping local TV and radio stations bring in much needed cash as both lose market share to cord cutters, podcasts and Facebook.
Speaking of Facebook, everyone — not just Californians — can expect to see more political ads populating their social media feeds. In 2012, total ad spending on digital was $160 million. This year, Borrell predicts it will top $1 billion for the first time. "There's an awful lot of money out there," said Cassino. "Political spending has ceased to be an episodic event. It has become an industry. It never goes away now."
Californians may soon miss the days of being irrelevant.