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State skips presidential primary

Move saves cash-strapped Washington about $10 million; party caucuses will pick candidates

OLYMPIA – There will be no presidential primary in Washington state next year. A law signed Thursday cancels the primary mandated by a voter initiative in 1989.

That move will save the state an estimated $10 million for an election that Washington Democrats have never used to pick presidential delegates and Washington Republicans have only partly used.

The parties will use precinct caucuses, as they did for decades before voters approved the initiative, and have continued to use despite the support the presidential primary has from officials like Secretary of State Sam Reed and Gov. Chris Gregoire.

In 2008, the state held both precinct caucuses and a presidential primary, 10 days apart. The winners were the same – Barack Obama and John McCain – but participation was far different.

The primary drew more than 1.2 million voters, most of whom cast a ballot by mail. Exact numbers for caucuses aren’t available, but tens of thousands of political activists attended the meetings, which often last an hour or more and involve voicing support for a candidate and sometimes trying to sway others at the meeting to stand up for your candidate.

Although the law canceling the primary passed both houses with bipartisan support, Reed was the only other elected official present Thursday when Gregoire signed the bill, which calls for the presidential primary to be reinstated in 2016.

The presidential primary was canceled once before, in 2004, also to save money. The law doesn’t affect the state’s Top Two primary for state and local candidates seeking offices in the 2012 general election. That’s scheduled for early August.