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Depending on whom you ask,

California

’s near-certain move of its primary up to Feb. 5 is either a voters’ godsend or a candidates’ nightmare.

One thing is certain: It won’t halt the stampede of contenders to

Hollywood

looking for donors. In fact, it may accelerate it.

California

’s state Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to make the switch from a June primary to a February one, and the state Assembly could decide as early as next week on the matter. It also has the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Supporters say that it will force campaigns to look to

California

— including the entertainment industry — as more than a campaign’s ATM machine. Because

California

has been too late in the primary schedule to have an impact on who the nominee is, with an earlier primary, campaigns will have to actually campaign in the state; that is, organize rallies, meet-and-greets, union hall visits, etc.

“There’s a huge resentment over the fact that if you want to meet Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, you just pony up $2,300,” says producer Rick Jacobs, whose group, the Courage Campaign, has launched a petition drive in favor of moving the primary. “They are running campaigns for rich people.”

Jacobs, who chaired Howard Dean’s

California

campaign in 2004, says that the 2008 race is already shaping up to be akin to Amway-like “multi-level marketing,” where well-heeled bundlers are tasked with finding even more bundlers. “It becomes sterile,” he says. “That is not how you build a movement.”

Yet others see an earlier

California

primary as not creating a grassroots movement, but making the race even more about money.

California

is no

Iowa

or

New Hampshire

, and candidates will be forced to run a campaign on the airwaves. By some estimates, it will cost $20 million just to run in the state.

“Anybody that plays in the Feb. 5 primary has got to have a substantial amount of cash to play in this environment,” says Sim Farar, a major donor to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)

Particularly vulnerable will be second-tier Democratic candidates like Chris Dodd, Tom Vilsack and Joe Biden, who already are trying to break through in a media environment dominated by Clinton, Obama and John Edwards. Even if the second-tier make a surprise showing in

Iowa

or

New Hampshire

, they have to contend with the firewall of

California

. What’s more, many state voters may already be casting their ballots by absentee in early January, before

Iowa

and

new Hampshire

even vote.

“It makes it exciting to be in

California

, but politics is more and more about money,” says producer Lawrence Bender. “You are getting people out here, but

California

is all about TV.”

Fund-raising consultant Noah Mamet says it will be like a “national primary” — and that campaigns are only now waking up to the reality of what lies ahead. That includes hiring of campaign organizers, and coordinating staff and volunteers for a race that many had not anticipated.

Moreover, with absentee voting,

California

voters will be able to cast ballots in early January, Mamet says, and ads would have to begin in December, if not earlier.

“In reality, to candidates it means they will need more money than ever,” he says.

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