Thousands of Republicans will meet across the state Saturday for precinct caucuses, but the gatherings will lack the oomph of previous election years.
There is a reason Donald Trump and his rivals have focused entirely on the South Carolina Republican primary the same day.
Unlike the Palmetto State showdown, Washington’s GOP caucuses won’t count in the race for the party’s presidential nomination. The state’s 44 national Republican delegates won’t be up for grabs until the May 24 presidential primary.
Instead, Saturday’s GOP caucuses will focus mainly on electing delegates to upcoming county and legislative-district conventions. Attendees also will have a chance to propose resolutions and debate issues for the Republican platform.
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“It allows people to meet and get to know their Republican neighbors. You sit at a table with them and you get to discuss candidates and issues,” said Susan Hutchison, chairman of the state Republican Party.
The event also allows for local Republicans not automatically involved in the conventions the opportunity to be elected. At the caucuses, the parties elect delegates to the county conventions, which then elect delegates to the state convention. At the state convention, delegates to the national convention are elected. The 2016 Republican National Convention is July 18-21 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Participants also can choose to sign in with a preference for a presidential candidate, giving campaigns a list of possible supporters for later in the year, but the information will not be released otherwise and no straw poll will be taken at the Saturday caucus locations.
But Mark Anders, chairman of the Lewis County Republicans, expects many people will turn out to caucus locations wanting to vote for a presidential candidate.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of folks that aren’t plugged into the party politics. … They’re going to come to the meeting and probably become disappointed,” Anders said.
Four years ago, Mitt Romney won the state Republican caucuses that drew about 50,000 participants — a tiny fraction of the state’s 3.9 million registered voters. This year, with no delegates at stake, Hutchison estimated the caucuses will see about 28,000 attendees.
By shifting to a primary, Republicans hope to encourage broader participation in the state’s presidential pick — though the May 24 primary will be among the latest in the nation.
The state Democratic Party is taking the opposite approach and sticking to its caucus tradition. The party will award its presidential delegates based on the results of caucuses on March 26.
Democrats have criticized the $11.5 million cost to taxpayers for the presidential primary, saying the state shouldn’t spend money on a partisan nominating contest that only Republicans will use. Unlike primaries, caucuses are paid for by the political parties that organize them.
The 2004 and 2012 state presidential primaries were canceled due to budget concerns.
Democratic legislators have refused requests by Secretary of State Kim Wyman to move the primary date to March.
Historically, both parties in Washington relied mostly on caucuses to pick presidential favorites. The events, typically small gatherings in churches, schools and meeting halls, have proved vulnerable to takeovers by small but determined activist factions.
Washington’s presidential primary was spurred by such a coup in 1988, when Christian conservatives handed televangelist Pat Robertson a win, embarrassing the GOP establishment. The next year an initiative to the Legislature created the presidential primary.
This year’s primary won’t take place until after the state GOP convention in Pasco on May 19-21. That means delegates to the national Republican convention will be selected without necessarily knowing whom they’ll be required to support.
Republican Party caucuses
• When: 10 a.m. Saturday
• Who: Any registered voter can participate in their precinct caucus. Attendees must sign a statement saying they consider themselves Republicans and will not participate in another party’s caucus or convention system. Seventeen-year-olds who will be able to vote in the November election are allowed to register to vote and participate in the caucuses.
• What: Unlike past years, the GOP caucuses will not count in the race for the White House. Washington’s 44 delegates won’t be awarded until the May 24 presidential primary.
• Where: To find your caucus location, visit the state GOP website: www.wsrp.org/caucus
• What about Democrats? The state Democratic Party’s caucuses — which will count toward allocating the party’s delegates in the presidential race — are March 26. For more information: www.wa-democrats.org/page/2016-democratic-caucuses
Source: Washington State Republican Party, Washington State Democratic Party, Secretary of State’s Office