Iowa is behind us. New Hampshire, too. But this weekend, the presidential selection process starts to get a little more real in Washington and two other states.
Saturday morning is when local Republicans hold precinct caucuses to begin selecting delegates who can move on to the Thurston County, state and national conventions later in the year. The Feb. 20 date coincides with a Republican primary in South Carolina and Democratic caucuses in Nevada.
The presidential season is gaining speed.
The 10 a.m. events in Thurston County are more of a party-building exercise than a contest to see which candidate’s supporters can get the most delegates. That’s because Washington’s Republicans decided to allocate all 41 of their national delegates via a statewide primary election that isn’t scheduled until May 24.
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By contrast, Washington Democrats are using caucuses exclusively to select their delegates in late March.
Using a primary ensures that more Washingtonians can meaningfully participate, and we commend the state GOP for making that choice. But having a caucus and an election may be confusing for some voters.
Nonetheless, Republican chairwoman Susan Hutchison is encouraging her party’s members to get involved at Saturday’s gatherings across the state.
Three sites are picked out for the four legislative districts that overlap Thurston County, according to Pat Beehler, county GOP secretary:
▪ 2nd District: The Prairie Hotel, 701 Prairie Park Lane SE, Yelm.
▪ 35th and 20th districts: Black Hills High School commons, 7741 Littlerock Road SW, Tumwater.
▪ 22nd District: The Columbian Hall, 6794 Martin Way E, Lacey.
Hutchison said the caucuses are important for building the party at the precinct level. The gatherings let neighbors connect along political lines, and participants can emphasize issues that delegates later incorporate into party platforms at the county and state levels.
Washington’s Republicans went the way of the nation the last time they held presidential precinct caucuses in 2012. Of 43 state delegates, 37 went to eventual party nominee Mitt Romney, although Ron Paul supporters ran strong in Thurston County.
This year, Donald Trump is leading polls nationally. But in a straw vote a few weeks ago at the GOP’s Roanoke Conference held at Ocean Shores, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was the top choice among Republicans.
Hutchison declined to say in an interview who she favors. But she welcomed the excitement that an uncertain outcome is bringing to the process this year.
“My hope is we will be a battleground state so we get to watch all those ads,” Hutchison said. “For a number of years we haven’t even known what the rest of the country is seeing.”
Despite the late primary date, Secretary of State Kim Wyman also thinks Washington voters here could end up having something to say – at least the GOP’s nomination process, which may be undecided for months.
We’ll have to see how the mad scramble works out.
In the meantime, it should be fun to watch.