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Washington, Idaho processes up in air

As other states rush to advance the dates for their presidential primaries, Washington political leaders still are discussing when to start the complicated systems they use to pick their delegates.

Washington and Idaho voters both could find that the major parties’ nominees are selected before they get a chance to pick.

In both states, the process is more complicated than having a single day for a primary and dividing up delegates based on that vote.

Washington Democrats voted recently to hold their precinct caucuses, the start of the process that picks delegates for their nominee, on the afternoon of Feb. 9.

That’s a Saturday, just four days after the earliest date national party officials said they would allow most states to schedule their presidential primaries or caucuses.

State Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz said the party was hoping to build on the excitement generated in 2004 when Democrats held caucuses on a Saturday, rather than the traditional Tuesday night, and drew record turnout.

In the last few weeks, so many other states have moved their primaries or caucuses to Feb. 5 that the nominee may be picked on that night. But Pelz said there are no plans to reschedule the Democratic caucuses in Washington.

“We are not going to join this race to the bottom, that threatens to cripple the presidential selection process,” Pelz said Thursday. “It’s not a good way to pick a president.”

Washington Democrats won’t use the results of a state primary to award delegates, Pelz said.

Washington Republicans will award some delegates based on the primary and others based on the caucuses, state Chairman Luke Esser said. The formula hasn’t been determined, nor has the date for the GOP caucuses, which could be as early as Feb. 5 if they stick with the traditional Tuesday schedule. They could try moving it to a Saturday, he said.

Also undecided is a date for the primary, which will be discussed next week with the Secretary of State, the party chairmen and other elected officials later this month. Previous presidential primaries have been held in March, but next year’s could be set as early as Feb. 5.

Even though voters established a presidential primary by initiative in 1989, Democrats will argue to drop the primary altogether, just as the state did in 2004, to save money.

“We’re a caucus state,” Pelz said.

Republicans might argue to keep it, Esser, a former legislator, said.

“As a senator, I voted against getting rid of the primary,” he said. He also sent a letter to legislators Thursday opposing a bill that would cancel the 2008 primary.

Idaho’s presidential primary is set by law for the fourth Tuesday in May, which next year is May 27. The date could be moved up, but it coincides with the statewide primary for other offices and holding two statewide elections on different days is an expense the state has rejected in the past.

Idaho Democrats begin their delegate selection process at the county caucuses, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 26. Idaho Republicans don’t hold county caucuses to award delegates, using the primary results to award delegates at their state convention in June.