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Let's have a vote first

Editorial for Jan. 15, 2004

It's bad enough that voters in the state of Washington won't have a direct voice in who the major party nominees will be for this year's presidential election.

Due to budget considerations, the Washington Legislature, with Gov. Gary Locke's approval, nixed having a presidential preference primary. It's difficult to argue with that, since the election would have cost the state $7 million and the popular vote in the primary has no direct bearing on who will win the state's nominating delegates. In Washington, party members caucus to make their preferences known, and that process will not be affected by the suspension of the presidential primary election.

Nevertheless, the people get a chance to make their wishes known about who they'd like their president to be only once every four years, and it's very unfortunate there won't be a primary in our state this March.

But the real shame as we gear up for the 2004 election season is the role of the national news media and the polling organizations in our election processes.

If we are to believe what we are being fed by these institutions, there will be two certain outcomes to this year's presidential contest: Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean will win the Democratic presidential nomination, and after that incumbent President George Bush will clobber him.

Both projections are meaningless. Start with Dean. Not one Democratic Party voter has cast a ballot in a primary election. Yet we are to believe that the race is his because he leads in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, because he supposedly has strong backing among Internet activists, because he's gotten some high-profile endorsements, and because he has raised more cash than his opponents.

None of that really matters. Again, no one has yet voted.

The jury is definitely still out on Dean, although at this point he doesn't seem to be a very impressive candidate. It's difficult to see where his support is coming from, and it almost makes one wonder if some clever Republicans are sending money to the Dean campaign, hoping he'll be the easiest opponent for Bush to beat. Dean doesn't show much passion or fire, and his efforts to try to quiet his critics, as well as his refusal to release his administration's records, is troubling. In that regard, he seems as slippery and secretive as President Bush.

For his part, Bush has overseen the dismantling of a humming, job-generating economy, put the nation deeply in debt to pay for his tax cuts, and basically trashed our relations with many countries around the world. What a record to run on.

America can -- and should -- do better than either of these two lightweights.

Those who are so hot to anoint Bush as the 2004 winner need to remember that until the Democratic Party settles on a nominee, the poll-guessing is nothing short of silly: "Who would you vote for, the incumbent president or any of the nine candidates vying to challenge him?"

There has to be a certain nominee in place before the polls can mean anything. In fact, those who try to tell us the race is "over" before the contest even begins are undermining our democratic processes. We want and deserve an honest election, not a stampede to the nearest bandwagon.

In a way, politics is like sports. For example, there are polls and predictions in college football. The same flawed logic that tells us that Dean and Bush have "already won" could be applied to football. And by that logic, why play any football games? We could just look at the polls and betting lines and choose a winner that way. And of course, we'd have to go back and make Oklahoma the national champion, because every poll, virtually all year, had "unbeatable" Oklahoma No. 1 -- until it came time to play that final pair of games. That's when they got stomped.

There's an old saying: "That's why they play the game." Translation: Nothing is certain in sports ... or in politics.



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