What do we do about the Washington primary?

Believe it or not, there is a primary in Washington state on Tuesday. Ten days after the caucuses that overwhelmingly awarded their delegates to Obama and that McCain very narrowly prevailed in (after a quite chaotic count), the state voters are once again called to the polls to determine two new winners.

There will be delegates awarded in the GOP contest (19 of them, mostly on a proportional basis), but none in the Democratic one, making Tuesday's primary between Obama and Clinton yet another beauty contest. But that does not mean there will not be voters. 250,000 participated in the caucuses on the 8th, much more are expected to participate in the primary. The New York Times reports that turnout of about half the state's voters -- 1,5 million in both parties -- is expected on Tuesday.

So it is obvious that the results will look rather different than the caucus ones did -- and I'm not even talking about complicating factor like whether those who went to caucus will think of the fact that they should vote again in the primary if they want their vote to be counted in that election too. But since there are no delegates in play at all for Democrats -- and we know how this is now all down to delegates -- does it matter at all?

In fact, the Washington primary could end up being an important part of the spin war because it will provide one empirical answer to "the caucus question:" Do caucuses really benefit Obama, perhaps even in a way that is unfair? That is the argument of the Clinton camp, and since they are trailing widely in the delegate count of states like CO, MN, ID that hold caucuses, it is in their interest to imply that the result -- and thus the delegate count -- would have been much closer had the states held primary. This argument is of course designed to provide superdelegates the cover to vote against Obama if he leads among pledged delegates at the end of the day.

So we will have to compare Tuesday's results with those of the caucus, which Obama won 68% to 31%. It looks very improbable that the same kind of margin can be sustained in a primary, so Obama certainly does not have to win with this big a margin. But it is also clear that the closer Hillary gets, the better positioned she will be to argue that caucuses are undemocratic and that their results should be taken with care. And inversely, the less Obama gives ground the stronger his rebuttal to Clinton.

Where do we draw the line? How close does it have to get for Clinton to have a point? That's entirely due to the spin war and to the perception out of Tuesday.



  • After having a caucus that counts, why in the frell would you need a primary that doesn't? Seems like a waste of energy, time, and money.

    By Anonymous David, Tallahassee FL, At 18 February, 2008 09:54  

  • The primary is more to select the state and local party nominees.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 10:10  

  • The response from Obama is that people who attended the caucus probably see no need to vote in the primary, so you have to rebalance the primary vote by some arbitrary factor to come up with a meaningful pro forma. You could probably do some exit polling to get a sense of how many voters attended caucuses, then discount the caucus result by that factor, etc.

    It's all spin at this point. Bottom line: the idiots running her campaign screwed up big time by assuming a combination of hierarchy support plus name recognition in large blue states would do it for her. She should have seen this coming as soon as Iowa results were in.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 18 February, 2008 10:33  

  • It's an interesting comparative exercise. My state has both,but we keep only the valid results,the primary ones. Clearly the primary trumps the caucus.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 10:33  

  • It will be interesting to see if Obama supporters also vote for state and local candidates or whether their participation is limited to Obama. The continued viability of those elected officials that serve as superdelegates is contingent on this factor. It may also give us insight into how many will show up in Nov.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 10:50  

  • Wait - the Clinton campaign is arguing that we should look to the opinions of those who turn out when their choice has no effect on the outcome of the election, rather than those who turn out when their choice counts (affects delegate selection)? She's really determined to remain the low information voter candidate, isn't she.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 11:36  

  • The primary has a lot more at stake if you live in that state. Are you arguing that Obama supporters don't care about who rules their daily lives? The superdelegates are chosen by local voters. If you don't care about local candidates, why would you be surprised when they "vote their conscience" (aka protect their base) by voting what their constituents want?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 11:46  

  • FYI I live in WA state and just so you know tomorrow's primary is only for the presidential candidates. The other primary, for state and local candidates, is in September. In some areas, there will be local school bond measures and other things but it is mostly a waste of money. The state parties did not want it but the state apparently requires it anyway.

    Since Washington state does not have party registration, the parties wanted to keep the caucus system so that they can keep the integrity of the process. As the US constitution states, organizations such as political parties have the right to freedom af association.

    By Blogger Blair, At 18 February, 2008 12:01  

  • Interesting. So some areas may be entirely skewed due to local ballot initiatives. Given that aspect, a clear conclusion to the vote isn't likely. The Fla. primary also had ballot measures that spiked turnout.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 12:07  

  • Is it the Washington primary vote or the caucus vote or both that count towards the total popular vote?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 16:32  

  • the press will ignore this as they did in FL and MI because it doesn't matter and neither campaign is working it. oh and there will be ACTUAL results in WI and HI that night.

    By Blogger DFL Foot Soldier, At 18 February, 2008 16:32  

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