With Donald Trump emerging as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, a little of the drama has been removed from the state GOP convention that opened in Pasco on Wednesday.
But important issues remain, such as selecting the state’s 44 presidential delegates and getting more Republicans to vote in down-ticket races, party chairman Susan Hutchison said this week.
The GOP has had plenty of success electing state legislators in recent years, and they currently control the state Senate. But they have had less success in winning statewide elections, and the state hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Hutchison believes the excitement created by the Trump candidacy could translate into more GOP voters this year and “swing this state to the right.”
The convention will pick Washington’s delegates to the national GOP convention in Cleveland in July. But those delegates will not know who they are supporting until after the results of the Washington primary election set for next Tuesday. On the Washington ballot, Republicans can choose among Trump, and his former challengers Ted Cruz, John Kasich or Ben Carson, who remain on the ballot.
“You never know what the voters will decide to do,” Hutchison said.
Meanwhile, the state’s Republican leadership is focused on the governor’s race and other statewide races, she said.
“The big prize is governor,” Hutchison said.
One Republican gubernatorial candidate is Bill Bryant, a businessman and port commissioner in Seattle. He is challenging Democrat Jay Inslee, who is seeking a second term.
The Republicans in some recent elections have come close to winning the governor’s mansion for the first time since John Spellman left office in 1985.
“We believe Bill Bryant is the perfect candidate,” Hutchison said.
Bryant, who is scheduled to speak Friday at the convention, could not say if the Trump candidacy will translate into more Republican votes down the ticket.
“I don’t think anyone has a handle on that,” Bryant said. “It’s a very unusual year.”
Hutchison thinks Trump will boost GOP turnout.
“He has gotten more voters in the primary election of any candidate in history,” Hutchison said of Trump. “He is awakening a sleeping giant of the voters who tend not to bother to vote in primaries.”
Todd Donovan, a political scientist at Western Washington University, said excitement over Trump may not extend to other Republican candidates.
“He might mobilize some new voters, but there’s no reason to think they would vote GOP down the ballot,” Donovan said. “The guy is basically running against his party establishment.”
Trump’s candidacy may cause some regular GOP voters to sit this election out, Donovan said.
Hutchison believes some Washington Republicans do tend to sit out elections, thinking Seattle-area Democrats will decide the outcome anyway. That thinking needs to change, Hutchison said.
“One of my goals is to make sure Republicans in Eastern Washington vote,” she said. “If they vote, we win.”
As of Monday evening, 730,685 primary ballots had been returned to the Secretary of State’s office, representing 17.9 percent of the 4 million ballots mailed to voters.
The state GOP convention will also consider the party platform. The convention runs through Saturday in Pasco.
While Democrats are allocating all of their delegates from the recent caucuses, Republicans are using Tuesday’s statewide presidential primary to allocate theirs.
There will be 44 Republican delegates from Washington at the GOP National Convention in Cleveland this summer, 30 of whom will be allocated proportionally based on the results of the 10 congressional districts, and 14 to be awarded proportionally based on the results of the statewide vote.
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