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Spin Control: State Democrats may use presidential primary in 2020

TACOMA –Washington Democrats may dump their longtime practice of using precinct caucuses to nominate a presidential candidate, their party leader said Saturday.

After weeks of criticism about confusion and lack of participation, state party Chairman Jaxon Ravens opened the state convention with a strong hint Democrats will switch to the primary system in 2020.

Ravens defended the 2016 precinct caucuses, which drew an estimated 250,000 people to meetings across the state in March, as “the largest in the United States … and very probably the largest in history.”

But the complicated process uses volunteers to organize and operate, he said.

“It’s pretty clear we have outgrown the precinct caucus,” Ravens said, adding he was putting together a subcommittee to change the party to a different system that would be “more open, like the primary system we’ve got.”

He didn’t say the party would definitely use the state presidential primary for determining the split of delegates for presidential nominees. In the past, Democrats have dissed that system because Washington voters do not register by party, which means non-Democrats can help select the party’s nominee.

This year, however, voters who participated in the state’s presidential primary were required to check a box on the ballot envelope that said they were either a Democrat or a Republican, and mark their ballot for a candidate from that party. Even so, Democrats didn’t use the results because they had committed to the caucus system in 2015.

Despite the fact that the Democratic presidential primary was essentially meaningless, some 800,000 votes were cast for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, about a third more than were cast for all Republican candidates.

Ravens suggested Democrats would not entirely abandon precinct caucuses, citing a “need to talk to our neighbors about the values we care about.”

It remains to be seen whether that results in a system similar to what Washington Republicans adopted this year. The GOP used caucuses to select delegates to go to the state convention where national delegates were selected. But those delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland are required to vote based on the May 24 presidential primary results. If Democrats choose a similar system, expect a good-sized “told ya so” from state GOP Chairman Susan Hutchison.

Business group backs Hobbs

A Democrat endorsed by the Association of Washington Business is about as rare as a Seattle corner without a Starbucks, but state Sen. Steve Hobbs made a good enough impression at the group’s spring meeting in Spokane to snag the nod for the lieutenant governor’s race.

The AWB, which is essentially the state’s Chamber of Commerce, had eight of the 11 candidates agree to come east last week for a free-for-all debate. Picture a GOP presidential debate in early January, but with the participants considerably better behaved. They rarely ran over their allotted time limits and had to be cut off.

As one of the moderators, I told them when time runs out they could finish their sentence, provided it was a sentence structured like Ernest Hemingway, not Marcel Proust, but that probably wasn’t the main reason; some didn’t even use the 90 seconds given them to answer questions. Rarely did they invoke the name of another candidate to open up that person to a 30-second rebuttal.

There were four Republican hopefuls on the stage, along with Hobbs and two other Democrats, plus the race’s lone libertarian. In announcing the endorsement, AWB said it liked the Lake Stevens legislator’s work on the transportation package the group had pushed for.

Probably also helped that he was less enthusiastic about some of the state initiatives the group considers “anti-business” than Senate colleagues Karen Fraser and Cyrus Habib.

Mostly playing nice

It would be incorrect, however, to say the lieutenant governor debate was all sweetness and light, with candidates effusively complimenting each other on their positions or resumes. But there was no instance of anyone emulating Chris Christie mocking Marco Rubio for his rote recitation of a criticism of Barack Obama.

The closest anyone came was when Republican Phillip Yin alleged that two candidates on the stage had lied in their resumes. That would have triggered a right of rebuttal, had he mentioned a name. But he didn’t, and wouldn’t when called on it by the moderators.

In theory that opened up the prospect of a rebuttal to all seven of the other candidates on the stage to say they had been nothing but honest-to-God-truthful in their resumes. Instead, the moderators opted to move on.

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