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Spokane primary voters can still pick candidates who’ve suspended their presidential campaigns

March 4, 2020 Updated Wed., March 4, 2020 at 11:03 p.m.

Two photographs taken March 4, 2020, show signs being removed from the front window of the downtown Spokane campaign office of Michael Bloomberg. The former New York City mayor announced he was suspending his presidential campaign after a poor Super Tuesday performance. (Kip Hill / The Spokesman-Review)
Two photographs taken March 4, 2020, show signs being removed from the front window of the downtown Spokane campaign office of Michael Bloomberg. The former New York City mayor announced he was suspending his presidential campaign after a poor Super Tuesday performance. (Kip Hill / The Spokesman-Review)

The campaign signs were removed from the first-floor window of the Michael Bloomberg office in downtown Spokane on Wednesday morning, hours after the largely self-funded candidate became the latest to drop out of the Democratic presidential field.

Bloomberg’s exit from the race was perhaps the most noticeable for Spokane residents who’ve checked their mailboxes or turned on their TV sets over the past several weeks and been deluged with ads for the former New York City mayor.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders emerged as front-runners as the Super Tuesday results poured in and Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren had notably poor outcomes, but the contest is far from decided.

Also unclear to many Spokane County voters who may have already cast their ballots for Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar in Washington’s upcoming presidential primary is what will happen to their votes. The answer: They will still have their vote tallied for that candidate when they’re first counted on Tuesday.

That’s a concept that has proved confusing for some Democratic voters, said Ed Wood, chairman of the Spokane County Democrats. He said Wednesday his office has fielded “hundreds of phone calls” from voters who didn’t fully understand the primary system that’s in its first year as the sole method of helping to determine which Democrat will compete in the November election.

President Donald Trump was the only Republican on the primary ballot.

“We had calls from people who voted for Pete Buttigieg, asking if they could vote again,” Wood said.

The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, had a strong showing in early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, but announced over the weekend he’d be suspending his campaign after poor showings in Nevada and South Carolina.

Laurie Rusch, a local Buttigieg supporter, said she’d initially cast her ballot for him but would be supporting Biden moving forward. Buttigieg endorsed Biden shortly after leaving the race, along with as did Klobuchar and Bloomberg.

“He asked us as his supporters to support Joe which most of us are doing,” Rusch wrote in a message. “I had already submitted my ballot for Pete, but plan on supporting Joe going forward.”

Many Democratic campaigns in Washington urged their supporters to wait until near the end of the three-week voting period to cast their ballots, as the field winnowed. There are 13 Democrats on the primary ballot in Washington this year, but only four – Biden, Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard – are still actively campaigning.

Warren’s campaign released a statement through its manager on Wednesday indicating the senator was “disappointed with the results” of Tuesday and weighing her options. Before Tuesday’s results were reported, Warren’s campaign had indicated she’d speak Saturday night at a fundraising and organizing dinner for the Idaho Democratic Party in Boise.

Wood said it is unclear whether local voters were following the advice of the campaigns. The party, at both the local and state levels, has vowed not to publicly support a candidate until after the Tuesday primary.

“Our direction was to vote your ballot like you normally would,” Wood said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Spokane County voters had returned 87,501 ballots, said Mike McLaughlin, the county’s elections manager. That’s good for a total turnout already of 26.1%; it includes ballots returned by people who have declared support for both parties. McLaughlin said Wednesday he did not have breakdowns of ballot returns by political preference.

For the nonbinding presidential primary in 2016, turnout was 37.4%.

McLaughlin said of the ballots returned, 3,305 had been rejected due to an error in marking party affiliation on the outside of the envelope. To vote in the presidential primary, the voter must declare a party preference, along with a signature. If voters do not, they will receive a letter asking them to do so for their ballot to be counted, he said.

Should those ballots be cast for candidates who have suspended their campaign, they’ll still be tallied and used to apportion delegates if that candidate reaches a 15% threshold either at the Congressional district or state level, party officials said. Those delegates would be required during the first round of voting at the national convention in Milwaukee in July to back the candidate according to the primary results.

Things get interesting if any one candidate does not get the 1,991 delegates necessary to secure a majority at the convention, and thus the party’s nomination. Rules stipulate that a second ballot would take place, with additional votes from Democratic members of Congress, senators and governors. On that ballot, delegates could vote for whomever they want, and subsequent ballots would be held until one candidate emerged with a majority. That means even candidates who’ve suspended their campaigns could become viable once again.

In recent election cycles, the so-called “brokered convention” outlined above has been hinted at multiple times in early primary contests, including in the 2016 Republican race. GOP caucus-goers in Spokane that April talked about a potential brokered convention, as both Trump and Ted Cruz appeared to be splitting the vote and incapable of reaching the majority.

But by the end of May, Trump had locked up the delegates necessary for the nomination. Neither party has seen an uncertain nomination going into their national convention for decades. The last nominees to be selected by a brokered convention were Democrat Adlai Stevenson and Republican Dwight Eisenhower, both in 1952.

The New York Times on Wednesday gave Biden an edge in pledged delegates over Sanders, 433-388. But both will likely see Washington state’s 107 delegates as a major prize on Tuesday, said Wood.

“I think you’re going to see both candidates spending some time in Washington state,” Wood said.

Bloomberg’s departure could provide local support to other candidates, as campaign officials for the former New York City mayor said in January they’d continue to work against Trump even if Bloomberg wasn’t the Democratic nominee. Bloomberg tweeted a cryptic response to a tweet from Trump attacking his candidacy early Wednesday, a video of the famous light saber battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in “Star Wars: A New Hope” with the message, “See you soon, Donald.”

A campaign worker on Wednesday morning at the Bloomberg offices in Spokane directed questions to a campaign spokeswoman, who did not return a phone call requesting comment.

The Bloomberg campaign had been the most visible presidential effort in Spokane ahead of the Tuesday primary. In addition to mailed advertisements, the campaign had spent close to a half-million dollars on advertisements airing on local broadcast stations, according to public records filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

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