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WA: The Obama/Clinton split

The vote count in Washington is still a long way from finished, so some of the county notions on the map below cold jump back and forth. But the questions are likely to remain.

Remember that Washington voters, some of them anyway, got the chance to vote twice for president in their nomination process – caucuses a week and a half ago, and primary on Tuesday. The rules were different, though, for each party. For Republicans, both contests counted, since delegates would be selected based partly on the caucuses and partly on the primary. For the Democrats, the primary had no practical effect – all delegates were assigned based on the caucus.

Still, in each case, we had two bites of the apple, and for both parties the bites looked different.

For the Republicans, the situation was straightforward. The really passionate activists around still-active candidates have grouped around former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Representative Ron Paul, and they made their presence felt at the caucuses. Huckabee drew essentially even with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, and Paul wasn’t far behind.

But that’s the difference between activists and the larger population. In the primary, McCain won decisively – and won every county, so far as we can tell at this point – in a show of Republicans uniting behind their nominee. The largest share of Republicans, at least. Huckabee still drew a sizable vote, just a smaller percentage than in the caucus.

The Democratic case is more complex. There, Illinois Senator Barack Obama won a runaway at the caucuses, and that was where both sides campaigned, because that is where all the delegates would be awarded. So the question: What happens in the beauty contest, the primary that indicates some preference but has no practical effect?

Obama seems to have won that too, but the primary margins are close enough – at this writing, around 50%-47% – that you can’t be totally sure. This was nothing like the caucus runaway.

primary map

green counties Obama, blue Clinton

Most of the county margins were fairly close, too; few counties in this primary gave either candidate a margin of 10 points or more. Only a handful jump out, like liberal Democratic San Juan (66.7% so far) for Obama or working clas Cowlitz (58.2%) for Clinton.

The overall picture, though, defies any easy analysis. You can bunch some of the counties together – Chelan, Grant and Okanogan, for example, backing Obama partly in reaction to Clinton – but then what of the Clinton wins in Adams, Franklin and Yakima? What of the close Clinton wins in Snohomish and Pierce, but not Kitsap or Thurston? (King, which seems to be going for Obama decisively but not overwhelmingly, is obviously sui generis.)

We’ve spent a while looking at the map. And still don’t entirely get it.

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