Washington Democrats historically have used caucuses for the presidential nominating process.
For the first time, a primary will determine how to allocate most of the state’s 107 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, July 13-16 in Milwaukee.
Ballots for Washington’s March 10 presidential primary will be mailed Friday.
So far, only 64 Democratic delegates nationwide have been awarded based on the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses and the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary. That would seem to put Washington Democrats in a prime spot to help determine who will face President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
The problem is the Democrats’ nominating process is about to accelerate dramatically, with the Nevada caucuses Saturday followed by the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29. Three days later is “Super Tuesday,” when about one-third of all Democratic delegates will be allocated based on primaries in 14 states, including California and Texas, the two states with the biggest populations and number of delegates.
Once votes are counted from Super Tuesday, the eight-person field for the Democratic nomination likely will shrink as candidates accept they don’t have the political support or financial backing to continue. Some could bow out before the March 3 delegate bonanza.
Washington will share the March 10 primary date with five other states, including Michigan, where President Donald Trump eked out a narrow victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton four years ago. Michigan had the tightest contest among the 50 states, with only 0.22 of a percentage point separating the two candidates.
Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2016, three states that had been part of the “Blue Wall” of states that voted for the Democratic nominee in six consecutive presidential elections. Michigan could be a battleground again, both in the Democratic nominating process and the general election.
Will Casey, communications director for Washington State Democrats, is optimistic that Washington will be a player this year, which is why the 2019 Legislature moved the primary from late May to the second Tuesday in March.
“I think Washington is still going to be a very hotly contested primary,” he said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., drew an estimated 5,000 people to a March 20, 2016, rally at Hudson’s Bay High School. Six days later, he scored a big win in Washington’s 2016 caucuses and snared 73 percent of available delegates.
Sanders returned to Washington this week for a rally Monday night at the Tacoma Dome. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is scheduled to campaign Saturday in Seattle.
Casey said Democrats are trying to get presidential candidates to campaign in the state, including attending the March 7 Warren G. Magnuson Awards Dinner in Seattle.
“Even if the candidates don’t come out, I am sure you will see high-profile surrogates,” he said.
With the presidential field likely to winnow further before the March 10 primary, Democrats may want to hold on to their ballots to ensure that their vote goes to a candidate still seeking the party’s nomination.
Casey said he understands the rationale for voting late, but it’s not up to the party to advise voters when to return their ballots.
“We’re thrilled we are able to make the switch to a primary,” he said. “We are just excited that more people are going to have a chance for their voice to be heard in this process.”
Trump, who has a virtual lock on the Republican nomination, has a rally scheduled for Thursday night in Colorado Springs, Colo., followed by another Friday in Las Vegas.
The presidential primary is an oddity in Washington, a state where citizens don’t select a political party when they register to vote. For the March 10 primary, voters must mark a political party box on their envelopes for their votes to be counted.
Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said election workers will process the ballots as they come in, including verifying signatures and ensuring votes match their stated partisan affiliation.
Voters who mark their ballots for more than one candidate or for a candidate who is not affiliated with their declared party will not have their ballots counted.
Kimsey said county elections officials get calls from voters irked by the party requirement, which he suspects will depress turnout. Kimsey is still predicting 50 percent of county voters will return their ballots for the March 10 primary.
Turnout for past presidential primaries in Clark County was 37 percent in 2016 and 43 percent in 2008. Primaries were canceled in 2012 and 2004 to save money.
Kimsey, while saying “my confidence level on 50 percent is not very high,” pointed to the 69.5 percent turnout the 2018 midterm elections, which was 19 percentage points higher than the 50.6 percent turnout for the 2014 midterm elections.
For some voters, a downside to declaring a party affiliation is the information will become a public record. Parties are likely to buy mailing lists of their voters, who could end up on mailing lists and in party databases for future elections.
“My experience is that political parties and campaigns do access that information and do use it,” Kimsey said.
Trump and 13 Democrats
For Republicans, Washington’s presidential primary is straightforward, since Trump is the only candidate on the ballot.
Democrats will choose from 13 candidates: Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Sanders, businessman Tom Steyer, Warren and businessman Andrew Yang.
Bennet, Booker, Delaney, Patrick and Yang have dropped out of the presidential race but still will appear on the primary ballot.
Democrats also will have a 14th “uncommitted” option indicating that delegates to the national convention should not be tied to a specific candidate. Republicans opted not to have an uncommitted option on the GOP ballot.
Caucuses, conventions to select delegates to national conventions
Washington’s caucuses are far from dead.
Democrats and Republicans will use the March 10 primary to apportion delegates to presidential candidates.
Caucuses and conventions will be used to select the actual delegates to the Democratic National Convention, July 13 to 16 in Milwaukee, and the Republican National Convention, Aug. 24 to 27, in Charlotte. N.C.
Republican precinct caucuses will be held at 10 a.m. Feb. 29. Republicans can find their precinct caucus by using an online tool on the Washington State Republican Party’s website, wrp.org/caucus.
According to the Clark County Republican Party, attendees will be asked to sign a statement that they consider themselves Republicans and will not participate in any other party’s caucus or convention.
Participants will elect delegates and alternates to the Clark County Republican Party’s convention, April 4 at Washougal High School, 1201 39th St.
The Feb. 29 caucuses also will allow local Republicans to provide their thoughts on the county party platform.
Any Republican who submits a platform suggestion or resolution will be invited to join a committee that will consider all suggestions and craft a proposed platform for the county convention to debate.
“If you believe that the Republican Party needs to hear your voice in how it should change in the years to come, please join us,” Michael Delavar, a volunteer helping to plan the caucuses, said in a statement.
Democrats will follow a similar process for selecting their delegates, with legislative district caucuses May 3 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. Sixth St., followed by May 30 congressional district caucuses.
Local Democrats can register to run for a legislative district delegate on the Washington State Democrats’ website, www.waelectioncenter.com.
The Washington State Democratic Convention will be June 12 to 14 in Tacoma. The Republican State Convention will be May 14 to 16 in Everett.
— Jeffrey Mize