OLYMPIA -- Washington Republicans and Democrats will hold their precinct caucuses on different days -- actually they'll hold them in different months -- in the first step of the presidential nominating process next year.
Republicans have scheduled their precinct caucuses for Saturday March 3, which should be fairly early in the nominating process. Some people might argue that right now seems late in the nominating process, after all the GOP presidential debates, but in truth the picking doesn't begin in earnest until the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Those aren't scheduled yet, but are expected to occur in February, followed quickly by the South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucuses.
Under national GOP rules, only states which award delegates proportionately to the top candidates can hold their primaries or caucuses in March. States that have "winner take all" systems must wait until at least April.
Washington Republicans theoretically will split their delegates among candidates based on caucus support. But it's important to remember that the caucuses are just the beginning of the process. Supporters who become delegates must then fight through a county and state convention where the delegates to the national convention are finally decided. So in theory a candidate who did very well in in the March precinct caucuses might be out of the race by the June state convention, and those delegates might realign with someone else.
On the Democraticside, things are a bit less complicated, because, well, they already know who their nominee is going to be. They scheduled precinct caucuses for April 15, which is a Sunday. County conventions will follow soon after.
By holding the caucuses on different dates, the parties theoretically have allowed for something they always complain about with primaries in a state in which no one registers by party. That is, that Democrats could attend Republican caucuses to cause mischief, and vice versa. It's possible because the only critieria for participating in a party caucus is to say that for this particular day, you consider yourself a member of that party.
That could change tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day, as Scarlett O'Hara once observed.
Which is not to say that we believe such chicanery will happen. But for parties that were always extremely suspicious of it happening in primaries -- to the point of suing to overturn more the blanket primary system that lasted for more than a half century -- they seem unconcerned about that happening in the caucuses.
Bottom line, though, is that for the Republican presidential selection, the Washington precinct caucuses might be early enough to draw some attention from candidates.