WASHINGTON: A KEY GOP CAUCUS STATE?
By Scott I. Williams
Communications Director, 5th District Democrats
As Democrats sit back and watch Republicans slug it out for their Presidential nomination, one question hangs in the air in this state’s political circles: Will Washington matter?
The results of the Democratic caucuses in April are a given. President Obama will be our nominee. The only question will be how many people show up at their local caucus to rubber stamp the decision. And Obama remains well ahead of each of the Republican candidates in the polls (see Real Clear Politics’ summary of leading polls: www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2012/president/us/general_election_romney_vs_obama-1171.html ).
But the Republican story is different. The GOP free-for-all that started in Iowa and continued into Saturday’s Maine caucuses suggests that, come March 3, political junkies of both parties across the country could be watching Washington closely. They will be wondering: What will the GOP Washington caucuses reveal? Do Republicans dislike (or distrust) Mitt “Wet Mop” Romney enough to put someone else on top, even before their August national convention?
Democrats will be watching, knowing that political in-fighting among Republicans does nothing but help Obama. Besides, it is good theater. Cheap entertainment.
The results of Republican blood-letting so far suggest enough questions will remain about GOP party leadership that this state’s results could make a difference. Yeah, Romney won Maine on Saturday, adding to his growing delegate count. But he did not dominate, like a shoe-in candidate should. He beat Ron Paul by less than 200 votes.
His ability to win is still in doubt. Remember just last week, when Rick Santorum swept three states? Recall Newt Gingrich’s landslide in South Carolina? And Paul just won’t fade away, much to GOP leadership’s chagrin.
The Washington caucuses will be held three days before what is probably the most important day in the primary season: Super Tuesday. On Tuesday, March 6, the GOP nominee will be chosen in 10 states. What happened in Washington three days earlier will be top-of-mind for voters when the nominee is selected in huge delegate states like Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia. Washington will be the first read of voter sentiment on the West Coast.
“The Washington result may be the last bit of momentum that can be generated for a candidate before Super Tuesday,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told The Seattle Times.
Republican Chairman Kirby Wilbur agrees: “Given the nature of the race so far, I think we’re going to be more important than we have been in years, if not decades.”
DELEGATES ON THE LINE
What’s more, there are 43 Washington delegates at stake in the Washington caucuses – the most between the Florida and Super Tuesday. While those delegates will not be formally bound to any candidate until June, this state represents a healthy chunk of the total 1,144 delegates needed. This is not a winner-take-all state, meaning candidates will have to fight for every delegate.
Certainly, the significance of Washington state in the process has not been missed by the candidates’ campaigns. Romney, with a bevy of endorsements from Republican leaders, has his machine running here, as does Paul. Gingrich’s people are raising money in this state and he has recruited an outspoken Bothell evangelical Christian, Pastor Joe Fuiten, in support. Santorum plans to visit and meet with Republican leaders and anti-gay-marriage activists this Monday – the same day Gov. Gregoire signs the same-sex marriage law.
Politics can be messy. Caucuses, in particular, can be the essence of democracy at work – its best and its worst. Caucuses are, as one Republican politician put it, “really personally interactive politics…neighbors sitting with neighbors, agreeing and disagreeing and trying to outmaneuver each other.”
So watch out for the Washington GOP caucus. As March 3 rolls around, while Democrats watch from the sidelines, the Republicans will probably show us once again how really messy it can get.