Round two of Washington’s uniquely complicated and confusing presidential nominating process ends Tuesday evening, when the deadline passes to vote in the state’s primary.
All Eastern Washington voters were mailed ballots more than two weeks ago. They have until 8 p.m. to get them postmarked or delivered to drop-off boxes, and ballot totals should start rolling in shortly afterward.
What those results will mean depends.
First, it depends on the party. Republicans will award 19 delegates – or 51 percent of the state’s regular delegates to the National Convention – to the winner, based on formulas that involve statewide and congressional district totals.
Democrats will award no delegates. Even though elections officials will count both parties’ ballots and release those results, Democrats base their division of delegates on the Feb. 9 precinct caucuses. But their candidates are on the ballot and in many places – Spokane County included – returns from Democrats outpaced Republicans last week.
Second, it depends on the candidates’ reaction to those results. The three GOP candidates finished the caucuses within spitting distance of each other. Sen. John McCain has 25.6 percent of the delegates to the next level of the process, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has 23.3 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul, in one of his best showings, has 21.4 percent.
If McCain opens a wider lead, or if Huckabee or Paul moves up in the balloting, look for them to point to that as a sign of broader support among the general electorate. If they move down, expect them to minimize the results.
With the caucus results so close, none of the three can claim victory, Paul campaign spokesman Kyle Brotherton said. That campaign is calling every Republican and independent it can identify and urging them to vote for the Texas congressman, who supporters contend is the only true Republican conservative.
The campaign’s pitch to independents: voting Democratic wastes a ballot because those results won’t go for delegates.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Barack Obama swamped Sen. Hillary Clinton roughly 2-to-1 in delegates elected at the caucuses. Both campaigns made the big push for caucus attendance, warning supporters that primary ballots don’t matter.
In the past week, some Clinton supporters have mounted an “under the radar” effort by phone and e-mail, urging their base to cast a primary ballot. Cathy Allen, a Seattle political consultant and a member of Clinton’s state steering committee, said it’s more a matter of “keeping hope alive” than an official strategy.
Clinton said during her visit to Spokane that she prefers primaries to caucuses because she believes they better represent voters as a whole. If she wins Tuesday or pulls closer, her campaign could claim shifting momentum. If not, the campaign will talk about the next primaries.
The Obama campaign has basked in caucus results since Feb. 9 and late last week minimized the Washington primary. The caucuses already show broad appeal, spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.
“As the Clinton campaign has said many times, this race is about delegates, and the Washington state Democratic Party chose to allocate the pledged delegates based off the (Feb. 9) caucus … on Saturday which we won overwhelmingly,” she said.
The Democratic results could be used by undecided “superdelegates” to determine which candidate they should support, but there’s nothing in state law or party rules that requires it.
“Assuming that the results are similar to the caucuses, I think it underscores where Democrats in Washington are coming from with respect to the presidential race. If it goes the other way, it creates a more complex picture,” State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said. “Certainly I would think superdelegates would want to take that into consideration.”