2008 Hello Washington
posted by February 6 at 9:30 AMon
Goodbye Super Tuesday, and hello Washington State.
After last night, the Republican race seems to have settled out in favor of John McCain while the Democratic race still remains a scramble for delegates between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And for delegate-hunting Democrats, the next sizable prize is here in Washington, where 80 delegates and 17 superdelegates are on the table in our caucuses this Saturday.
That’s the largest number of delegates at stake in any Feb. 9 contest.
So welcome to the race, Washington, and welcome to Washington, national media. Here are some things that anyone—political reporters, residents, and electoral recluses who are just tuning in—should know about Democratic politics in The Evergreen State:
OUR DEMOCRATS: Former state party chair Paul Berendt describes the psychological and political make-up of Washington’s Democrats this way:
Our state is the home of independent, cranky, edgy Democratic liberalism. We are the home of a labor movement with muscle and workers tough enough to fight for their rights. People here get pissed off when you don’t respect the environment. We have more hikers and bikers than just about anywhere. We have a progressive social conscience that cares for those down on their luck. We are willing to fight hard for the equal rights of people who march to a different drum… There is a profound feminist ethic in our Democratic politics. Polls show that the percentage of women who vote Democratic in our state is one of the highest in the nation.
If that last bit, about the feminist ethic, seems to favor the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, keep in mind that Berendt is a newly-minted Clinton backer, having previously co-chaired the John Edwards campaign in Washington State. Another former Edwards co-chair, Seattle attorney Jenny Durkan, has moved the other direction, into the Obama camp, and she describes Washington voters this way:
We love to vote. We vote on everything, and anything. We love it so much, we sometimes vote several times on the same issue. Blend that love of voting with the fact that we all have opinions, and an abundance of coffee and it all adds up to a very raucous caucus. But we are also the true bell weather—when Obama sweeps here Saturday, the handwriting will be on the wall. Little ideas grow big here—just ask Costco, Microsoft, Nordstrom, and Starbucks.
Or, she might have added, just ask Howard Dean. Seattle—which will easily account for one quarter of the caucus votes this Saturday—was a hotbed of Dean support in 2004. Donations of time and money from the Seattle area played a huge part in propelling Dean’s insurgent campaign, and “former Deaniacs” are now a serious constituency here. This cycle, the Deaniacs and the Dean-style momentum in Washington are both very tangibly behind Obama.
The easiest way to see this is in donations. Obama has raised much more money in Washington State than Clinton ($1.7 million for him vs. just under $1 million for her), and he’s raised it from a considerably larger base of donors (average donation for him is $700, average donation for her is $1,200).
OUR CAUCUSES: Yes, it’s true, we have a Democratic caucus on Feb. 9 and a Democratic primary on Feb. 19. But only the caucus counts in terms of apportioning our 80 Democratic delegates. Trust me, you don’t want know why. State party chairman Dwight Pelz (one of our uncommitted superdelegates) tells me that last cycle’s Democratic caucus turnout was about 100,00 voters, and he predicts that this cycle’s turnout could be anywhere from 125,000 to 200,000 voters. “It’s going to be record turnout,” he says.
OUR POLLS: Good polls are hard to come by here in Washington. The most recent poll we’ve found, a Survey USA poll, gave Obama a 22-point lead among likely caucus-goers.
Also, this somewhat out-of-date Washington Poll, from Nov. 27, 2007, is worth a look mainly for the higher support Obama garnered among independents.
OUR SUPERDELEGATES: Here’s the list of our 17 superdelegates and an accounting of which way seven of them have pledged. Clinton is currently winning the Washington superdelegate race, with five superdelegates in her camp compared to two in Obama’s camp. Ten remain un-pledged.
Notable Clinton superdelegates: Our two female Senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and King County Executive Ron Sims. (King County, which holds Seattle, is the largest and most liberal in the state, and the state Democratic party chair, Pelz, tells me that he expects fully half of Saturday’s caucus votes to come from King County.)
Notable Obama superdelegate: Rep. Adam Smith, whose district covers large pockets of liberal voters south of Seattle.
Fence-sitting superdelegates to watch: Gov. Christine Gregoire, who has promised to make her decision before the caucuses, and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Seattle), who has not. Much has been made of Washington’s status as the only state to have it’s top elected positions—our two Senate seats and the governor’s office—filled by women. With our two Senators having already backed Clinton, there would be nice symbolism (for the Clinton campaign, at least) in getting the third top woman in this state to endorse Hillary. But the rumor is that Gregoire is leaning toward Obama, and the political reality (Gregoire is up for election this year after having won by only 132 votes in 2004) might be making Gregoire think hard about whether she wants to alienate liberal voters in Seattle, who seem overwhelmingly behind Obama, and perhaps conservatives and independents in the eastern part of the state, who are more likely to be hard-core Hillary haters. For McDermott’s part, he appears to be caught between his pro-Obama constituency in Seattle and a big debt he owes to the Clintons, who helped McDermott pay down legal fees in connection with his long-running court fight with Republican John Boehner.
OUR VISITORS: The Clinton campaign has suggested it may not spend much time here. Meanwhile, Barack Obama’s public schedule has him holding private events (read: fundraisers) in Seattle on Friday. And this report has Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama holding public events in Spokane on Friday.