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California Democrats lament lack of clout in state's primaries

California Democrats feel they aren't getting to play in the presidential nomination game until it's over. Though the state is the most delegate- and dollar-rich within the Democratic Party, its primaries are held in June - and by then the presidential nominee may already have been decided.

So party regulars are pushing hard for earlier primaries to ensure the kind of input commensurate with California's Democratic clout. (Party officials here say California Democrats raise 30 percent of national campaign funds and comprise 10 percent of the delegates at the national convention.)

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Punctuating the situation was the fact that not a single Democratic presidential hopeful showed up at the state party's annual convention during the weekend - they were all stumping in such political outposts as Iowa and New Hampshire.

''National politics would be turned upside down if California had primaries earlier,'' says Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D).

He'd rather not see California jump into the competition for earlier primaries and thinks primaries in all states should fall closer to the nominating convention, he says. But so long as smaller, less Democratically representative states hold early primaries, California needs its voice heard closer to the Super Tuesday sweep (held this year on March 13).

Mr. Hayden echoes mainstream party hopes here. State party chairman Peter Kelly and many delegates surveyed at the convention say they support the earlier California primaries.

Further, Democrats have sponsored a state law to move the presidential primaries to March in 1988. (It has passed the state Assembly but still needs approval in the state Senate.)

Meanwhile, the California Democratic Convention here was a dry run for the National Democratic Convention to be held in July across the bay in San Francisco. The major purpose of the convention was to present the state's platform to the national committee, but it also serves as a rallying point for the upcoming campaign season by building coalitions.

If the mood of the platform and the people here reflects the momentum behind the Democratic campaign nationwide, it is one based largely on anti-Reagan sentiment.

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That holds true particularly among special-interest groups such as nuclear-freeze supporters, environmentalists, minorities, and women. They have their particular preferences for a Democratic presidential nominee, but delegates here didn't seem to split hairs over the Democratic candidates. Delegates say they'll unite strongly behind whoever is chosen in order to unseat Reagan.

The California Democratic platform is considered by many to be the blueprint for the presidential platform, which embodies the issues a nominee runs on. The process to draft the California platform is far more extensive than other states', involving a year of grass-roots hearings with more than 15,000 Californians.

The planks in this year's platform are ''nothing you haven't been hearing Democrats saying,'' says state Democratic chairman Kelly. Much of the platform is a response to Reagan's policies - particularly in foreign policy issues and economic fairness.

But in a clear break with national party policy, the state party agreed to urge the Democratic National Committee to change a controversial rule governing delegate selection. This was a move forced by Jesse Jackson supporters, who want to cut by half the 20 percent voter threshold a candidate is required to win in a primary to qualify for additional delegates.

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