State's primary suddenly big deal
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
Washington's officially low-watt presidential primary Tuesday has become a spotlight so powerful only Alan Keyes can resist its pull.
By the end of today every major presidential candidate will have been in the state in the past week. Texas Gov. George W. Bush arrives today. Vice President Al Gore flew in yesterday. Arizona Sen. John McCain was here Wednesday and returns tomorrow. Former N.J. Sen. Bill Bradley has been in town for nearly a week.
Keyes, the Republican also-ran, is taking a pass. He has spent most of his time in Virginia where Republicans also vote Tuesday.
Washington's new prominence comes in part from Bradley, a struggling candidate looking for an Evergreen State miracle, and Bush, the GOP front-runner in danger of losing that title.
Bradley decamped to Washington last week in a strategy that a victory here will propel him into Super Tuesday on March 7 and keep his campaign alive. Bush said he changed his plans to make a Washington campaign swing after a surprising loss to McCain in Michigan last Tuesday.
The candidates also are here, though, because of the voters' historic independence. Swing voters have been key in most primary contests so far in the 2000 race.
Last summer some rural Washington election officials would have been happy to cancel the primary. They said it was a waste of money - costing more than $3.5 million to hold - because the campaigns would be decided in more populous states.
"It's certainly different than we thought it would be," said Nancy McBroom, Adams County auditor. She still thinks it's too much money to spend on an election with little official meaning.
"But the voters are responding and so are the candidates. They're coming here and that's important," she said.
They're not going to Ritzville, but a few have dropped into Spokane, an hour away.
In a week, Washington voters saw a close-up, condensed version of a national presidential campaign. There were town-hall meetings, rallies and speeches. There were radio and television commercials, and commercials to respond to earlier radio and television commercials.
"Who'd thunk it," joked Seattle pollster Stuart Elway. "I've had people calling from all over the country saying `What's going on out there?' "
Nobody expected much because officially the primary has little influence in deciding nominees.
Presidential nominees will be chosen at national political conventions this summer by delegates picked in primaries and caucuses around the country.
All of Washington's Democratic delegates and most of the Republicans will be chosen in the March 7 caucuses.
But for primary votes to count toward delegates in the primaries voters have to sign a short-term loyalty oath. In 1996, the first year unaffiliated ballots were available, about two-thirds of Washington's independently-minded voters chose them. Election officials assume that will happen again this year.
Since 1992, when Washington began holding presidential primaries, state political leaders have been trying to get candidates and voters to participate.
They wanted people to see candidates up close, which has happened. They wanted candidates to talk about local issues, which has happened a little. And they wanted Washington voters to have an influence in who actually gets nominated for president.
That might happen. How much influence Washington wields will be largely determined by the campaigns and the national media in the secret language they speak when deciding who gets "bounce," as well as when, where and how high the bounce is.
Washington's higher profile is mostly due to the timing of the primary.
The Leap Day election comes a week before the Super Tuesday round of primaries and caucuses in 17 states. For the Democrats, it's the biggest event since New Hampshire a month ago, an eon in campaign years.
Washington means something different to each of the four major candidates.
Bradley made state must-win
By his own doing, Bradley has made Washington a must-win. He suspended his national campaign last week to spend all his time here. And he has produced TV and radio commercials running exclusively in Washington, from a two-minute biographical spot that covers Bradley's life as senator and pro basketball player to shorter ads attacking Gore.
The other campaigns have all scoffed at the strategy, though only quietly, since there are no Democratic delegates at stake. But none need a victory as badly as Bradley does. Having lost to Gore in New Hampshire and Iowa, he needs to show his campaign is thriving before the important primaries Super Tuesday.
Nonetheless, Bradley says he's far behind Gore in Washington and has not shown a confidence that he will win.
U.S. Rep.Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, who made a last-minute endorsement of Gore Friday, said if Bradley loses here he should think about dropping out of the race for the sake of party unity.
The move to Washington was done in part to get the press to pay attention to something other than the McCain-Bush race.
"We talked about how to separate out the Democratic race, how to make it a highlight again," said Eric Hauser, Bradley press secretary.
Gore has least at stake
Gore, with the backing of the state party establishment, is well-situated in Washington. As vice president, he has the celebrity cache Bradley lacks, as well as the benefits and negatives of being part of the Clinton administration.
He probably has the least at stake here. A poor showing will be attributed to Bradley's extraordinary effort. A win will be viewed as the inevitable outcome for the front-runner.
But Gore has responded to Bradley. The campaign produced a radio ad that ran only here accusing Bradley of negative campaign tactics.
A television ad featuring Gore's climb of Mount Rainier last year began airing last week, too, though campaign aides said it was produced with an eye toward the general election campaign this fall.
Gore aides have been energetic, too, in following the Bradley camp from event to event, with press releases to counter the former New Jersey senator's latest attack.
Almost the entire Democratic leadership of the state is backing Gore. Gov. Gary Locke, Sen. Patty Murray and Congressman Norm Dicks are the co-chairmen of the campaign here.
Bush campaign is optimistic
Bush arrives today for campaign stops in Pierce County and Bellevue, and he has an Eastern Washington stop tomorrow.
In an interview last week, Bush said his loss to McCain in Michigan changed his strategy. He began airing a radio ad in Eastern Washington on Friday attacking McCain for saying he would consider removing dams on the Snake River to protect endangered salmon.
While the Texas governor continues to be identified as the front-runner in the Republican race, he has lost three of the four major races where McCain has competed.
For now, his money and stronger backing among Republican leaders keeps him as the favorite.
"I keep wondering how long that will last," said Elway, the Seattle pollster. "If he loses here, how can he still be the front-runner?"
The Bush campaign is optimistic it will dominate the March 7 Washington GOP caucus because of Bush's extensive support among party leaders.
McCain drew emotional crowds
The new attention on Washington came in part because of McCain's Michigan victory last Tuesday.
The next day he was in Spokane to begin a three-city tour of jam-packed events.
McCain drew big and emotional crowds. Hundreds were in Bremerton where McCain spoke in front of a retired Navy ship.
The Arizona senator thinks voters here are a natural for him. They are independent and resist being identified with either party.
But more than a publicity boost from winning Tuesday's popular vote, McCain needs delegates. And the sort of voters that have been attracted to him aren't likely to sign a Republican oath.
A radio commercial that began airing last week features former Gov. Dan Evans explaining how the primary works and urging voters to choose the Republican ballot.
David Postman's phone message number is 360-943-9882. His e-mail address is email@example.com ------------------------- How to cast a vote in Washington's primary
Washington's presidential primary is Tuesday.
At the polling place, or on mailed absentee ballots, voters will have to pick one of three ballots: Republican, Democratic or unaffiliated.
Only Republican ballots will be counted toward selection of delegates to this summer's national convention, where the party nominee will be selected.
Voters must declare a party affiliation and sign an oath to have their votes counted for selection of GOP delegates. Votes by unaffiliated voters will not be counted.
Democrats will not count any votes in the selection of delegates until the March 7 caucuses.
For information, call the Secretary of State's Office at 1-800-448-4881 or see the online voters guide at www.secstate.wa.gov/vote2000.
Where candidates will be today, tomorrow
11 a.m.: Holds a campaign rally with Democratic elected officials, Franklin High School, 3013 S. Mount Baker Blvd., Seattle.
3:10 p.m.: Visits with supporters on the Eastside, Redmond Community Center, 93rd Street Playground, Redmond.
5:20 p.m.: Meets striking SPEEA workers, Boeing Field, East Marginal Way South, Seattle.
Campaigning in Colorado and Arizona
9:45 a.m. Addresses the congregation at First AME Church, 1522 14th Ave. Seattle.
Noon: Talks with supporters at Bellevue Boys & Girls Club, 209 100th Ave. N.E., Bellevue.
3:15 p.m.: Addresses voters in Southwest Washington, Discovery Middle School, 800 E. 40th St., Vancouver.
Noon: Addresses supporters at a rally, the Quad, University of Washington, Seattle.
Campaigning in Ohio
5 p.m.: Attends a rally with supporters in Pierce County, Olson Auditorium, Pacific Lutheran University, 124th Street South and 10th Avenue South, Tacoma.
George W. Bush
7:35 p.m.: Meets with supporters in Pierce County, Clover Park High School gymnasium, 11023 Gravelly Lake Drive S.W., Lakewood.
8:40 a.m.: Talks about education reform in roundtable discussions with parents and teachers, Bellevue Community College, Conference Room L100-D, 3000 Landerholm Circle S.E., Bellevue.
9:15 a.m.: Meets with Eastside supporters in the Bellevue Community College gymnasium, 3000 Landerholm Circle S.E., Bellevue.
12:45 p.m.: Talks with supporters in the Tri-Cities area, Columbia Basin College, Workforce Training Center, 2600 N. 20th Ave., Pasco.
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