Monday, April 6, 2015

Despite a Presidential Primary Bill in the State Legislature, Washington Democrats Appear Ready to Continue Caucusing in 2016

FHQ this late winter and early spring has devoted some attention to the efforts in the Washington state legislature to move the Evergreen state presidential primary from its current May position into March. Led by Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R), the push is motivated not only by increasing voter participation in the nomination process and gaining additional candidate attention, but also as a means of enticing the two state parties into using a state-funded primary to allocate at least some of their national convention delegates.

The problem is that Washington Democrats have traditionally used a caucuses/convention process to allocate national convention delegates to particular candidates. Democrats in the state are also forced into an either/or situation when comes to the choice of primary or caucuses. Unlike Republican state parties, the DNC prohibits delegate allocation split across both methods (primary and caucus).1 Washington Democrats, then, have to choose one or the other. That provides the state party with even more reason to maintain the traditional delegate selection structure the party knows versus the primary process it does not.

That argument can be made in any event. And it does seem to get an assist from the recently released draft of the 2016 Washington Democratic delegate selection plan.2 As FHQ has argued, the Republican-controlled, state Senate-passed bill to move the primary up to March 8 is in a holding pattern in the Democratic-controlled state House until the Washington state Democratic Party votes on its delegate selection plan. That is set to happen at the Washington Democratic Party State Central Committee meeting later in April.

But that April meeting to decide on delegate allocation/selection rules has a draft baseline rooted in state party historical practice. In other words, it looks like Washington Democrats are leaning toward continuing the caucuses/convention process into 2016 and scheduling the first step, the precinct caucuses, for Saturday, March 26.

If that plan is approved by the state central committee, that makes it much less likely that the March primary bill will make it out of the Democratic-controlled state House. That, in turn, affects not only the presidential primary itself, but the Republican delegate selection process as well.

A May primary could be viewed by state legislators as too late to be of any consequence to the determination of a presidential nominee in either party and thus an expenditure that could be cut as was the case in 2012. But that plan could potentially run into trouble in a Republican-controlled state Senate depending on how the Washington Republican Party wants to allocate its delegates. The caucuses in both parties will most likely have occurred prior to the May primary. State Republicans could move to save some money in the state budget or attempt to pull off a reverse version of what Texas Republicans are planning for in 2016. It is more complicated than this, but Texas Republicans will have a March 1 primary that will allocate approximately 75% of the state's delegates and a parallel caucuses/convention process that will allocated the remainder of the delegates (at the June convention). The thinking among Texas Republicans is that the primary has an early impact on the Republican nomination process and if the outcome remains unsettled in late May and early June, then winner-take-all convention portion of the delegates will help determine the final outcome.

Washington Republicans could similarly gamble that the Republican nomination process will be unclear by mid-May and split their delegate allocation across early caucuses and the May primary. The party has a history with this, having split the allocation of its 2008 delegates roughly equally across a primary and caucuses. The difference between the past and the above option is that in 2008, the primary and caucuses were just ten days apart, not two months.

FHQ argued earlier that the fate of the March primary may hinge on Washington Democrats, but whether Washington has a primary at all in 2016 may depend on state Republicans. This one is an interesting back and forth between the party caucuses in the Washington state legislature, but also involving the Washington state parties themselves. It nicely highlights multifaceted interests that are involved in the delegate selection/allocation process.

NOTE: FHQ will pencil these dates in on the 2016 presidential primary calendar, but please note that the plans are not finalized and are still subject to change. With very few exceptions, though, the dates in the 2012 draft plans for caucuses states did not change.

1 Texas is the exception to this rule. The two-step process Lone Star state Democrats utilize has been grandfathered in for the last several cycles now.

2 The above link is to the plan on the Washington Democratic Party site. FHQ will also keep a version of the plan here.

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