Bernie Sanders (left) and Joe Biden. (AP photos)

Bernie Sanders (left) and Joe Biden. (AP photos)

As primary arrives, it’s decision time for Democratic voters

A once crowded field is down to a clear choice between a progressive, Sanders, and a moderate, Biden

The first time Brian Sullivan worked to get former Vice President Joe Biden elected president came in the summer of 1987.

It didn’t turn out well.

Biden, then a U.S. senator from Delaware, was ramping up his campaign a year ahead of the national election. Then, that fall, he dropped out, amid a torrent of news stories of his reputed plagiarizing of a British politician’s speech.

This time is shaping up much differently.

Biden, on the strength of electoral successes on Super Tuesday, is leading Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party nomination ahead of primaries Tuesday in Washington and five other states — Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri and North Dakota.

“I have a lot of hope,” said Sullivan, who was elected Snohomish County treasurer last year after stints on the County Council and in the state Legislature.

And he thinks backers of Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bloomberg — who quit the race and endorsed Biden — will further fuel what is being dubbed JoeMentum.

“But,” Sullivan noted, “people in Washington state are pretty blue so it could be Bernie who wins here.”

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and other Pete Buttigieg supporters wave at passing cars on the corner of Everett Avenue and Broadway on Feb. 29 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and other Pete Buttigieg supporters wave at passing cars on the corner of Everett Avenue and Broadway on Feb. 29 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Exactly what hardcore Sanders supporters like Jason Call of Snohomish are feeling.

When 17,000 people showed up for a Sanders rally at the Tacoma Dome last month “the energy was electric,” he said.

Call was a “Berniecrat” in 2016. Today, he sits on the Democratic Party’s state committee and is campaigning for Congress against incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen.

“People are still enthusiastic,” he said. “The movement we have built the last four years is getting stronger and stronger.”

Four years ago, Sanders walloped Hillary Clinton in caucuses which drew an estimated 250,000 people statewide. He captured 76% in Snohomish County and roughly 70% statewide. But in the primary, where 802,000 people cast a Democratic ballot, Clinton garnered the majority.

This year presents Democratic voters with a very similar match-up of a progressive and moderate. But the rules are different. Delegates will be distributed based on results of the primary, not caucuses. Tuesday will test the broader appeal of the two candidates.

“Bernie has a great ground game here in Washington,” Call said. “I am optimistic we will win this state. He still has a pathway to win the whole thing.”

Ballots for Tuesday’s election can be placed postage-free in one of Snohomish County’s designated drop boxes until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

If you mail it back, no stamp is needed but the envelope must be postmarked no later than March 10 to be counted.

There are 13 Democratic candidates on the ballot but only Sanders and Biden are still actively competing.

Democratic voters who don’t want to cast a vote for either of them, could choose “uncommitted delegates.” This option leaves the decision to an uncommitted delegate who will pick one candidate at the party’s national convention.

There’s only one choice for Republicans, President Donald Trump.

That’s not turned off GOP voters. Like Democrats, they too are participating in higher numbers than four years ago.

As of Friday morning, 131,448 ballots had been returned in Snohomish County, nearly 27% of the registered voters. That’s only 10,000 fewer than the total for ballots cast in the county in the 2016 presidential primary. Of the total, 61.5% cast a Democratic ballot and 35.7% a Republican one.

Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the state Republican Party, has been heartened by the number of people picking a Republican ballot.

“Every Democrat in the state has every reason to vote,” he said. “I am thrilled that so many Republicans are checking the box and getting their ballots in. Certainly we’re seeing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for the direction of the country under the leadership of Donald Trump.”

Ryan Casey of Everett, a member of the 38th Legislative District Democrats executive team, isn’t surprised at the excitement within his party.

“We’ve just got to get Trump out of there. It is mission number 1, number 2 and number 3,” he said.

“I am a strong supporter of Joe Biden and have been the whole election cycle,” he said. But, should Sanders emerge as the party’s nominee, he won’t hesitate to vote for him in November because of that mission.

Many Democratic voters banked on other candidates staying in the race — at least until the primary.

On Feb. 29, Leap Day, cars honked as Melanie Ryan and about a dozen others waved blue and yellow Buttigieg signs at the corner of Broadway and Everett avenues.

Ryan, of Monroe, began supporting him about a year ago after he appeared at a town hall discussion on CNN. She felt he was the only candidate with the leadership skills to bring change to the country.

But on Leap Day, as she drove onto I-90 enroute to Spokane for another campaign event, her phone “started blowing up” with messages that Buttigieg had dropped out.

She was upset, but had prepared herself for such news.

“I had known that the road in the next few weeks was going to be difficult,” she said.

She had already cast her ballot, but said she trusts Buttigieg’s recommendation to support Biden.

Randy Bolerjack of Mill Creek was all in on the ex-mayor, too. Unlike Ryan, he hadn’t voted yet. When the news came, he quickly pivoted to Biden.

“The timing of his exit will help provide clarity for Democrats as we work together to send Trumpism to the dustbin of history where it belongs,” he said.

If you plan to vote, there is one critical thing to remember: In order for your vote to be counted, you must sign a party declaration on the ballot envelope and choose a candidate from that party. The presidential primary is the only election in Washington with this requirement. In the November general election you can vote for any one of any party.

And it is not too late to participate. Individuals may register to vote in person at the auditor’s office, at 3000 Rockefeller Ave. in Everett, during regular business hours and up until 8 p.m. Election Day. And at the same time, you can get a ballot and vote.

If you have questions, contact the auditor’s office at 425-388-3444.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos

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