Washington elections officials began mailing out presidential primary ballots Wednesday, just as the Republican presidential field was narrowing to a single candidate.
The Democratic field still has two candidates locked in a fight for delegates, but the Washington primary will have no effect on the race between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Susan Hutchison, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, said some members are reeling from the events of the last 24 hours, particularly supporters of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who suspended his campaign Tuesday evening
"It's shocking. Nobody -- certainly not the Cruz supporters -- saw this coming," she said. Some Cruz stalwarts are "grieving," she said.
A month ago, the Washington presidential primary looked like it could be crucial to determining whether billionaire businessman Donald Trump could clinch the nomination before July’s GOP national convention. The vote of the state’s 44 delegates to that convention will be cast in the first round of balloting based on the results of the primary, which ends on May 24.
"We figured there was no way Donald Trump would get the support he needs before the convention," Hutchison said.
In early April, Trump was locked in a delegate battle with Cruz, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich offering himself as an alternative to those two. All three are on the Washington ballot, which will arrive in voters’ mailboxes this week, as is surgeon Ben Carson, who dropped out of the race early but did not officially notify state officials he withdrew.
Cruz had scheduled a rally at the Spokane Convention Center Wednesday afternoon, Trump was planning a weekend visit to Washington for locations that haven’t been announced and Kasich was scheduled to appear at the state GOP convention in Pasco on May 19.
Tuesday night, Cruz suspended his campaign after a poor showing in the Indiana primary. Kasich is expected to withdraw from the race sometime Wednesday, and GOP officials assume he won't appear at the convention. Details of any Trump visit remain unannounced.
Hutchison attributed to the change to a groundswell for Trump, with voters deciding America is "in need of life-saving surgery" and that he's the best surgeon for the job. Republicans who supported other candidates will need time to adjust, but in time "I expect the party to unify for the most part."
Meanwhile, county elections officials began mailing primary ballots to the state’s 4 million-plus registered voters. Spokane County Elections Supervisor Mike McLaughlin said his office would mail about 162,000 ballots to voters in the 3rd and 4th legislative districts Wednesday, and some 128,000 to voters in the 6th, 7th and 9th districts on Thursday.
Although voters will have to say they are a member of one party or the other for their ballot to be counted, the state will cover the cost of the election, estimated at about $11 million. The initial results will be reported shortly after the 8 p.m. deadline on May 24, and final numbers about two weeks later.
Those final results will determine how delegates are split among the candidates, and the rules won't change even though Trump is the only one actively campaigning. "We don't make things up as we go along," Hutchison said.
Democrats are using the caucus and convention system to award their delegates and will ignore the primary results.