No pride nor pleasure should be gleaned from the fact more than 383,000 Washington state voters (and counting, as of Wednesday) cast ballots for an unqualified Republican demagogue in Tuesday’s presidential primary. But at least the Evergreen state avoided the indignity of becoming the answer to a trivia question on a quiz show some day:
Which state put Donald Trump over the top in delegates he needed to secure his nomination at the 2016 Republican National Convention?
That distinction will now fall to California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico or South Dakota. They’re next up to bat with a five pack of primaries on June 7. (Unofficially, it appears Trump is already over the top, after a small number of the GOP's unbound delegates told the AP they would support him at the national convention in July.)
Washington pols and pundits could spend the next two weeks or more lamenting how their state was uncomfortably close to being the punch line of a tragicomical nominating season. The state primary has come under fire for its $12 million cost and ultimate pointlessness. Democrats use caucuses, not the primary, to choose their delegates, and Republicans were relegated this year to throwing rose petals before Trump’s coronation.
The primary has already turned into election fodder in the secretary of state’s race, with Democrat Tina Podlodowski criticizing incumbent Kim Wyman for not pushing to cancel it. Such arguments are easy to make with the benefit of hindsight. But rather than ax the primary, as the state did in 2012, Wyman and others support moving it up several weeks to a late-winter date when the parties’ nominees are not yet a fait accompli.
This year’s primary, aptly described as a beauty contest, drew an audience that would impress a former Miss Universe pageant co-owner named Trump. In a statement Wednesday, Wyman noted the 1.2 million-plus turnout. She also took a shot at the caucus system.
“The outstanding participation rate, far stronger than we saw for the caucuses, shows that our voters are fired up about the presidential race,” the secretary of state said.
An earlier primary, combined with state Democrats agreeing to use it to apportion at least some delegates, would indeed be a prudent change.
Consider 2008, the last year Washington held a presidential primary. It took place on Feb. 19, when the nominating process was young and the choices authentic. Each party had eight candidates on the ballot. Nearly 50 percent of Republican votes were cast for John McCain, but conservatives still had a flagbearer in Mike Huckabee, who wound up with 24 percent of the GOP votes. Huckabee managed to hang on until Super Tuesday.
Washington Democrats, meanwhile, were closely divided between Barack Obama (51 percent) and Hillary Clinton (46 percent) at a time when their race was close. The percentages flipped the other way in Pierce County, which proved to be bedrock Clinton country four years ago just as it was this week when she faced Bernie Sanders – despite Sanders’ prowess locking up delegates in the exclusionary caucus system.
What about 2020? Could Washington claim the second Tuesday in March for its primary, as Wyman suggests? Or perhaps move even closer to the front of the line, as it did in 2008? It’s not out of the question. State political leaders hold the key to any change, but they could be aided by tailwinds on the national scene.
Republican leaders are floating potential rule revisions for discussion at the national convention in July. They include reordering the electoral calendar so the traditional early states don’t necessarily get first dibs. Nevada — historically fourth in line behind Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – might be usurped.
“I think there’s a good bit of interest to move to another state in the West,” Henry Barbour, a member of the national rules committee, said in a New York Times story Tuesday.
That hand raised in the back row just might be Washington state, volunteering for duty.