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Presidential primary: One cut that won’t hurt

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Dec. 16, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
December 17, 2010 9:25 am

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Many of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed state budget cuts will inflict real pain and hardship on Washington citizens, including its most vulnerable – low-income children and the elderly.

But the recommendation to save $10 million by suspending the state’s presidential primary in 2012 isn’t one that will hurt very much, if at all.

The primary is largely ceremonial in nature, with state Democrats ignoring its results and using lightly attended caucus meetings to pick their delegates to the national nominating convention. State Republicans use the results to select half of their delegates.

This state’s primary hasn’t always been successful in drawing the candidates here on the campaign trail. For instance, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fiercely battled for the 2008 Democratic nomination, yet neither visited Washington.
And it’s not as if this would be the first time the primary was suspended to save money; it happened previously in 2004 when the estimated cost was $6 million.

The value of the primary lies mainly in engaging citizens in the political process in a more democratic way than the caucuses, which are dominated by the party faithful.

Caucuses are also vulnerable to being hijacked by highly motivated activists – as happened when TV evangelist Pat Robertson won the state Republican caucus vote in 1988 over then Vice President George H.W. Bush. In fact, that fiasco led to the creation of the presidential primary in this state in 1989, when lawmakers approved an initiative to the Legislature.
A voter who can’t attend a caucus meeting for one reason or another – work, illness, disability or being stationed abroad with the military, for instance – has little voice in which candidate is nominated. The 2008 primary drew nearly 1.4 million voters, more than 10 times the number estimated to have attended the caucuses.

Canceling the primary for the second time in eight years doesn’t bode well for its future. And 2012 could see a lively campaign for the Republican nomination that state voters would miss out on.

If both parties abided by primary voters’ decisions in the nominating process, there’d be an argument for sparing it. But given its irrelevance, suspending it in 2012 makes sense.

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