Who will Washington state Republicans back for president? | KUOW News and Information

Who will Washington state Republicans back for president?

May 2, 2016

Ballots will go out at the end of this week for this year’s presidential primary, and all eyes are on the state’s Republicans. Their vote will decide how the state’s 44 GOP delegates will be apportioned.

With the GOP contest still undecided, the state’s Republicans may have a rare chance to influence the nomination.

At this point, it’s not easy to get a feel for which way the vote will go. There hasn’t yet been a poll of likely Republican primary voters in Washington state.

So KUOW conducted its own highly unscientific survey standing outside a shopping mall in Bellevue.

A lot of people told us they haven’t been paying attention, or haven’t yet made up their minds. Many seem disenchanted with the choices this year.

“I dislike them all, pretty much equally at this point,” said Jeff, who lives in Seattle.

Among the Republicans who did have an opinion, we found an exactly equal showing of support for the three candidates, although with differing levels of enthusiasm for each.

“Probably for the primary, I’m leaning for Kasich, but I haven’t decided yet,” said Johnny Lin of Bellevue.

“Ted Cruz. Yup. All the way. Because he speaks the truth and stands by the Constitution,” said Kirsten Twohy of Goldendale.

“Donald Trump is the guy. He’s the real deal, what you see is what you get,” said Jim from Bellevue.

“I’ll probably vote for Ted Cruz,” said Sidonye Washington from Redmond. “But I really don’t like anyone. So it’s best of the worst for me, I guess,”

So much attention is being paid to the caucuses and primaries that precede Washington state that it’s hard to see any evidence of campaigning here. But the campaigns say they are working hard behind the scenes.

“In Washington state, we very aggressively recruiting volunteers,” said State Senator Doug Ericksen, Donald Trump’s deputy director for field operations. “We are contacting potential voters, we are working on opportunities for Donald Trump to come to Washington in a series of rallies. Polling numbers nationwide are definitely going up for Donald Trump in the Republican primary and we hope that spills over into Washington state here.”

But in some ways, the Trump campaign is playing catch up in this state. Ted Cruz has had an organization up and running here for almost a year.

Saul Gamoran, chair of Ted Cruz's campaign in Washington, says the Cruz campaign has been on the ground far longer than any of its rivals.
Credit KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang

It’s being managed by a lawyer named Saul Gamoran, who has never before run a presidential campaign. “Never. This is a first for me,” he said.

Gamoran says at least in the early days, it was tough to find Cruz supporters among what he calls the usual suspects of the state Republican Party. But since then, according to Gamoran, the campaign has built a broad coalition in support of Cruz.

“Look, I’m not a Tea Partier and I’m not a Christian conservative. We have plenty of Tea Partiers and plenty of Christian conservatives, but we have a lot of other Constitutionalists, libertarians, and even moderates that believe that now is the time for Ted Cruz,” Gamoran said.

Cruz has raised the most money of the three GOP candidates in this state: $942,373, according to the Federal Elections Commission. Kasich has raised $103,351, and Trump $57,285.

Gamoran says the campaign has been successful at making sure many of the delegates elected at caucuses here are loyal to Ted Cruz. That will matter if Donald Trump doesn’t win the nomination on the first ballot at the national convention. Then, delegates will be free to vote as they wish. Gamoran is confident that because of their early organizing, many of this state’s delegates will be die hard Cruz supporters.

And that brings us to the last Republican candidate.

John Kasich has amassed the most impressive collection of endorsements from state GOP leaders, including former governor Dan Evans and former Attorney General Rob McKenna.

Former Secretary of State Sam Reed says Kasich should have a lot of appeal in Washington, where moderate Republicans tend to win statewide. As the GOP convention approaches, Reed says he believes Kasich’s appeal will grow.

“In my experience, what happens is people get a little more serious about getting somebody who is actually qualified and also somebody who can actually win, as opposed to the gut reaction — I like what that person said, I really feel good about that — which tends to happen early on,” Reed said.

Reed admits that Kasich doesn’t have much of a ground game right now in the state, but that could change as the primary approaches.

All three candidates are planning to campaign in the state sometime before ballots are due on May 24.