Campaign '00

Washington's "beauty contest" primary featured lies, double votes, and confusion.

THE LAST TIME SEATTLE saw this much presidential flesh, William Howard Taft was in town.

Four years ago, no one noticed our presidential primary, and rightly so. After all, a Forbes vs. Dole beauty contest is an oxymoron. This time, the stars and polls aligned, and the "insurgency" campaign of Senator John McCain took off, motivating an "urgency" campaign from Texas Governor George W. Smirk. This translated into media interest and a mad search for crusty, independent voters.

McCain came to town and impressed locals by doing the one thing no one has been able to do since I-695 was passed: He caught a passenger ferry to Bremerton. Boy George dropped by to apologize for a previous campaign appearance at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Apparently no one had told the Texas governor that he was running for the presidency of the United States; he thought it was the Confederacy!

In the meantime, Democratic hopeful Bill Bradley decided his only chance for political survival was to move to Seattle and sleep on the couches of our establishment liberals, like "Sunny" Jim McDermott and "Impeach Him" Paul Schell. He also visited The Evergreen State College, the Bob Jones University of the Left. Too bad for him that it's Jello Biafra country.

Vice President Al Gore wisely countered Bradley's "move-in" strategy (perhaps remembering how well it did for Lamar Alexander in Iowa) by campaigning in places where it really matters, like New York. He did stop by, however, just to show the flannel.

Another thing that crowded this primary: all the former presidents that showed up. It's as if Mt. Rushmore had developed multiple personality disorder.

John McCain, for example, says he is the new Teddy Roosevelt leading the party of Abe Lincoln with the agenda of Ronald Reagan.

But Boy George says no, he's the real Ronald Reagan.

The real Ronald Reagan can't tell the difference, and Nancy isn't making any endorsements this year.

Bush has also undertaken a massive television advertising campaign to refute McCain's charge that he is just another Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, these ads also remind us how much he looks like his dad, George Bush Sr., who was out stumping for Jr. until he got sick, which is what he was always doing when he was out campaigning for himself, throwing up sushi or Prozac or something.

Al Gore keeps reassuring people that he will govern just like Bill Clinton but keep his pants zipped as tight as Calvin Coolidge's lips.

And Bill Bradley, stirred into a Coolidge-like frenzy, says that he's as honest as George Washington, unlike Gore who lies. He also accused Gore of being a "conservative," a use of that term that would only be comprehensible in a city that features a statue of Lenin.

INTERESTING THAT Washington's highest-profile presidential primary ever, the subject of many media pieces including the lead editorial in Sunday's New York Times, was also the least comprehensible primary in history.

The rules are so arcane, no one actually understands them (even the experts are just pretending): Democrats voted for Democrats, but their votes didn't count because they have to go to caucuses on March 7 to pick real delegates.

Republicans voted for Republicans, and their votes did count a little because the party has pledged to allot 12 delegates according to how the vote went. However, the GOP's National Committee advises that no actual delegates from Washington are selected in this way; the delegates will be chosen by party functionaries at caucuses and conventions—the primary vote merely directs how a dozen of them are supposed to vote on the first ballot at the national convention.

Independents voted either as Republcans, Democrats, or "Unaffiliated." If they voted as Unaffiliated, their votes didn't count toward delegates. If they voted as Democrats, their votes didn't count because nothing is a stake. The only way for an Independent to have helped McCain or Bush was to have voted as a Republican, which meant fibbing about party affiliation. But if you lied, your vote counted.

Independent-minded folk who resented having to declare any party affiliation and left it blank on their ballots merely had their vote automatically nullified. Won't they be happy! Enough of these were reported on early absentee ballots to suggest to election officials that many people simply didn't understand the rules. Which, of course, is what protects parties in power.

And of course, for those who voted in the primary, whether it counted or not, you have a chance to vote again by attending a party caucus in the next few weeks.

So, Washington voters got to lie, vote twice, and be confused by complicated rules and procedures. And, for a brief time at least, get pampered with more media and prospective presidential attention than at any time since statehood. Now that's election reform, America.

Did I mention Paul Allen had nothing to do with this election? Of course not. He buys much simpler ones.

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