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Amid reporting problems in the Iowa caucuses, KNKX looks ahead to Washington's primary

A pedestrian walks past a sign for the Iowa Caucuses on a downtown skywalk, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall
The Associated Press
A pedestrian walks past a sign for the Iowa Caucuses on a downtown skywalk, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.

We may not yet know the results of the Iowa caucuses, due to problems with an app used to report the results. But the first contest of the 2020 presidential election season may have a lot of people thinking about what's going to happen here in Washington.

Our presidential primary takes place on March 10. Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins talks more about what to expect with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.

Kirsten: Austin, what has the presidential primary been like in the past here. And how is it different this year?

Austin: First off, recall that historically Washington has been a caucus state, but in 1989 there was a citizen initiative actually to create a presidential primary. And for years we had both caucuses and primaries from the start. The Republican Party used the primary results or a combination of what happened in the primary, what happened in the caucus to allocate their delegates. But the Democratic Party held on strongly over the decades to the caucus system and didn't use the primary results to award delegates or to allocate delegates.

So over the years, what's really happened is Washington has struggled with national relevancy, especially when we had a late presidential primary held in May after the nominees were mostly decided. In fact, in 2004 and again in 2012, Washington canceled its presidential primary to save money because it was really going to be a non-consequential and costly beauty contest. But what happened is after 2016, Washington Democrats decided to cause reconsider how they would allocate their delegates. And last year, the party made a decision to switch from caucuses to the primary. Also last year, the Legislature passed a law. The governor signed it to move the primary up from May to March with the goal of making Washington more relevant in the national contest.

Kirsten: All right. And this is happening in a presidential election year. So what's going to happen in the primary? What's the process?

Austin: Well, there will be 13 Democrats on the ballot and one Republican, President Trump. ... Here's how this works. Every registered voter will get a ballot in the mail sometime after Feb. 21. What's different here is that this is the only election where voters must declare a party and vote only that party's ballot. So it's going to be a two-sided ballot, a red side and a blue side. And you can only vote one side. If you vote both sides, your vote doesn't count.

Secretary State Kim Wyman, when the bill to move ... the day of the primary up, wanted to have this be more of an open primary where you didn't have to declare a party. The political parties don't like that, though. They obviously want to control this presidential nominating process. So you have to declare a party affiliation. You have to pick one side of the ballot, not the other.

Kirsten: And so registered voters will get that ballot. And if they decide to declare a party, they can vote and send it in?

Austin: And if they don't want to declare a party, if that just goes against every core fiber of their being, then I guess they have to sit this one out.

Kirsten: So with all the changes — you know, we had gone, like you said, from being a primary and caucus state and the date was in May, now it's in March — is there a chance that the primary in Washington can actually make a difference in the election this year?

Austin: Potentially. I mean, our primary comes one week after Super Tuesday, which is when there are 16 contests being held, including in big states like California and Texas. As you said, we're going to be voting on March 10, along with states like Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, in Missouri. We know that several of the Democratic candidates have set up offices here in Washington state. It seems plausible that we'll get some candidate visits as we get closer to March 10. We already have seen the candidates coming through Washington. I mean, this is right in that zone of time when the nominee is going to be being decided and, you know, kind of whoever the front-runner is, it's going to be emerging.

So we're going to have a role to play. We're certainly going to be way more relevant than we were doing this in May and for that matter. Kirsten, it was late May when we were doing it. Sort of move this up to early March. Certainly gives us a chance to be part of the mix and to feel like, you know, for voters to feel like their vote actually counts and might have some impact here.

Kirsten: One of the names not on the ballot, of course, is Gov. Jay Inslee. He was a presidential candidate last year, dropped out of the race. Any indication of anyone he might endorse or just the impact of his candidacy, as short as it was?

Austin: You know, it was a kind of a flash in the pan. But he certainly spent a lot of time on the road and talked to a lot of people and got on the debate stage. To my knowledge, he has yet to endorse someone. It will be interesting to know if he's going to announce for the primary who he's going to cast a ballot for. I think that his hope has been that his view is his priority. If climate change will be something that these candidates and whoever the ultimate nominee is really takes and runs with. That has been sort of the gauntlet he's thrown down is that the next presidential Democratic presidential nominee needs to make climate change a priority. And I think that that's really going to be his focus for this presidential campaign.

Kirsten: All right, Austin, thanks so much.

Austin: You're welcome.

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.