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Northwest States Likely To Be Relevant In Presidential Nominating Contest

Kevin Mooney
Background image by Anna Fox, Flickr -

The scrambled state of the presidential nominating contest makes it more likely that Northwest states will be relevant when our time comes to vote. That starts in less than four weeks with the Idaho Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, March 8.

Idaho Republicans moved up the state’s presidential primary from May, but Democrats will be counted separately at caucuses later next month.

Boise State Political Science Professor Emeritus Jim Weatherby said the date change looks like it will “work out perfectly” to make Idaho’s vote matter.

“Granted we are a week behind Super Tuesday where over 600 delegates are at stake. But I think that the timing is still very good,” Weatherby said. “The votes of Idaho Republicans will count.”

Weatherby said there seems to be strong support for Donald Trump in Idaho according to the limited polling available, as well as for Hillary Clinton among Democrats.

Idaho Republicans vote on the same day as Michigan and Mississippi, which both have more delegates up for grabs, and Hawaii’s caucuses, which offer fewer delegates.

“I know for a fact several campaigns are interested in coming to Idaho,” Idaho Republican Party Executive Director David Johnston said.

He said he was not at liberty to say which presidential candidates had been in touch about visiting in late February or early March. But Johnston added that to his knowledge none of the presidential campaigns have dispatched paid operatives or opened a storefront in Idaho yet.

On the Democratic side, Idaho’s national delegates will be allocated through party caucuses on the evening of Tuesday, March 22. Idaho shares the attention that night with the Arizona primary and Utah caucuses.

Like Idaho, Washington state is using a hybrid system to award national delegates. Democrats will allocate delegates proportional to the preferences of attendees at party-run caucuses on Saturday, March 26. The Republican Party will use the results of the May 24 presidential primary to allocate delegates.

Names of Democratic candidates will also appear on ballots in the vote-by-mail presidential primary, but in practice that Washington election is merely a “beauty contest” on the Democratic side.

“I am particularly enthused by the presidential primary, which will be a broadly based election, accessible, convenient and secure,” Washington’s Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman said in a post on her office’s blog this week. “Voters will be getting a Voter’s Pamphlet and there will be good information from the campaigns and the parties. I imagine we will be seeing some of the candidates here as the caucuses and primary draw closer.”

Voters in Oregon and Washington state Republicans have to wait more than three months to cast their presidential primary votes. Weatherby said it is anyone’s guess if the nominating races will be over by then or not.

Oregon’s presidential primary takes place in conjunction with the regularly scheduled May primary election. Oregonians who wish to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary must be registered with said party. Ballots in the vote-by-mail election must be returned by May 17.

Idaho holds its regular primary election on May 17 as well, leading Weatherby to joke that Idahoans can legally vote twice this winter and spring. He mentioned a concern in political circles that some voters might forget there is a second primary election covering Congressional and legislative races.

Weatherby said it is actually quite important to vote in the primary since that is often the “de facto election” in the heavily Republican leaning state.

Many of the presidential candidates from both parties made quick stops in the Northwest last fall to raise money at private fundraisers. Senator Bernie Sanders stands out for the multitudes he drew to rallies in Seattle and Portland in August.

The 28,000 people who came to hear Sanders at the Moda Center in Portland on August 9 represented the biggest crowd up to that point for any 2016 presidential campaign event: about 19,000 crowded inside and another 9,000 stood outside according to security estimates.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.