SEATTLE — Loggers, bloggers, farmers and philanthropists. Political relevance does not come around often for the distinctive mix of constituencies that keeps things lively here in the other Washington. So this Saturday, when presidential caucuses will be held statewide, people plan to make the most of it.
Turnout is expected to be high, regardless of the usual February forecast for much of the state: rain. About 100,000 people participated in the caucuses in 2004. Twice that many could show up this time, according to some of the bolder predictions, and political experts note particular passion among Democrats over issues including the war in Iraq, health care and the environment.
The mystery, however, is which groups of voters will show up on Saturday in the biggest numbers — and whether they can figure out the rules.
“That’s what we’re working on right now, getting our Hillary supporters out to caucus because our base, women, are not really Democratic party activists who go to caucuses,” said Linda Mitchell, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington and a backer of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. “They’re usually working, or they are taking care of children.”
“Plus,” Ms. Mitchell said, “we’ve got this other factor with the primary that’s also going on. There’s a lot of people who aren’t engaged in the process who think they’ve already voted for Hillary Clinton.”
Come again? If Ms. Mitchell sounds as if she is shrewdly trying to limit expectations for Mrs. Clinton, she also has a point.
Things here are mighty confusing.
While Democrats and Republicans are holding party caucuses on Saturday, people can also vote in a statewide primary on Feb. 19. Mail-in ballots for the primary, which are widely used, went out to voters last month. Voters can participate in both the caucuses and the primary.
State officials have hoped the February primary, first approved in 1988, would allow more people to participate, but the parties control the awarding of delegates. The Democrats will award 78 of their 97 delegates based on Saturday’s caucuses, with the rest determined by so-called super delegates, not the primary, as has been the practice for decades.
Republicans offer a different twist. About half of their 40 delegates will be awarded at the caucuses, and most of the rest will be from the results of the primary. Oh, and Republican delegates assigned at the caucus can decide to switch to another candidate later.
“I describe it as a fluid process,” said Luke Esser, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party.
With the withdrawal of Mitt Romney from the Republican race on Thursday making Senator John McCain the overwhelming favorite for the nomination, the Democratic caucuses here are drawing the most interest.
Mrs. Clinton, of New York, spoke Thursday at a rally on the Seattle waterfront. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois is set to make two appearances on Friday, one at Key Arena beneath the Space Needle, and at “an alternative energy event as well, less of a big crowd thing, more a policy discussion,” said Representative Adam Smith, who is chairman of the Obama campaign in Washington. Mr. Obama’s wife, Michelle, plans to visit Spokane on Friday.
Mr. Obama has raised nearly twice as much money in the state as Mrs. Clinton, and experts say his campaign’s success at energizing and organizing certain blocs of voters for caucuses in other states could continue here. Mr. Obama is hoping to attract environmentalists, young and first-time voters (including those among the 40,000 students at the University of Washington), as well as well-educated, often wealthier professionals in Seattle and its suburbs and some independents and Republicans.
“We would expect if those trends of education and income and age hold, he probably would have an advantage here,” said Matt Barreto, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Washington who helps run the nonpartisan Washington Poll.
Galen Main, 23, a graduate student in social work, said she was cynical about politics before she learned about Mr. Obama. Now she is volunteering for his campaign.
“Obama can get more done because he’ll get more people involved,” she said. “That’s the only way we can hold government accountable is to have the masses really care.”
Mrs. Clinton has deep loyalty here among working-class Democrats and women, who vote in larger numbers than men and have helped elect the state’s two female senators and governor.
The Clinton campaign also hopes voters in this technology-centered, trade-dependent state remember how the economy expanded under former President Bill Clinton’s administration.
“I think this is going to be a whole lot more about how good life was when we had a Democratic president and ‘remember how you in Washington State were able to build an economy that’s been able to withstand all the gloom and doom we’re seeing right now nationally,’ ” said Cathy Allen, a longtime Democratic strategist here who is on the steering committee for the Clinton campaign.
Mrs. Clinton has collected endorsements from some of the most prominent Democrats in the state, including Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and the popular King County executive Ron Sims. Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle and more than two dozen state lawmakers are supporting Mr. Obama.
Jay Ubelhart, a ferry boat deck hand and a member of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific, said he was interested in Mr. Obama but liked Mrs. Clinton’s health care plans more. He said he also worried that Mr. Obama’s race would prevent voters elsewhere from supporting him in a general election.
“It’s the ‘ideas’ campaign,” Mr. Ubelhart said, referring to the Obama campaign, “but the object is to get a Democratic president into the White House.”
ends with a quote from Congressman Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, head of Obama's campaign here: