Washington could join about two dozen other states with a Feb. 5 presidential primary next year.
Secretary of State Sam Reed, the chief elections officer, said Monday he will recommend moving the primary to that date when a special committee meets Friday.
“I really have mixed feelings,” Reed said in an interview. “If we don’t (use that date), we may end up irrelevant because it may be all over after Feb. 5.”
Some of the most populous states, including California, New York, Illinois and Florida, announced recently they will hold their primaries on that date. Reed said he believes some candidates who go to California to campaign may make stops in Washington as well.
With that many delegates at stake, if one candidate wins most states Feb. 5, he or she is likely to be his party’s nominee for president. But if different candidates win in different regions of the country, the field may only be narrowed, and more attention would be paid to states that hold later primaries, Reed said.
“It’s a gamble,” he said.
The leader of the state Democratic Party said Democrats will continue their policy of ignoring primary results. Instead, they’ll use results of the Feb. 9 caucuses to award delegates for the nomination, state Chairman Dwight Pelz said.
“If you have a primary on Feb. 5, there aren’t going to be any candidates coming to Washington,” Pelz said. They’ll concentrate on the bigger states, he contended.
Washington Republicans might award some delegates based on the primary results, state GOP Chairman Luke Esser said recently. But they could still give the majority of their delegates to the winners of the caucuses, which the GOP has yet to schedule.
Esser, too, wondered about “the headlong rush to Feb. 5.”
Though four states will hold caucuses or primaries earlier, Feb. 5 is the earliest the Democratic Party will recognize delegates for most states.
To broaden the racial and ethnic diversity of voters who make early decisions on the field of presidential candidates, the two major parties have added Nevada and South Carolina to Iowa and New Hampshire, the two traditional starting states for the race.
That is prompting many other states, some of which previously held primaries in May or June, to move their contests up to Feb. 5 as well.
State statute sets Washington’s presidential primary for the fourth Tuesday in May, but it allows a nine-person committee to move it to another date if at least six of the members agree.
Reed, Pelz and Esser all have seats on that committee.
Only the 1992 primary was held in May. The committee moved the 1996 presidential primary to March 26 and the 2000 presidential primary to Feb. 29.
The 2004 presidential primary was scheduled for March 3 but later canceled to save money when Democrats said they would not use it to award delegates and Republicans said all delegates were likely to be awarded to incumbent George W. Bush.