An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Biden Apparently Wins In Idaho; Race Too Close To Call In Washington

Idaho Secretary of State

After a night of big wins for former Vice President Joe Biden in Michigan, Mississippi and Missouri, the Democratic presidential primaries in Washington and Idaho did little to clarify the race between the race’s two remaining frontrunners.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Biden were virtually tied in Washington state after the first round of counting votes. Sanders received 32.7% of the vote, and Biden has 32.5%. 

In Idaho, Biden has nearly 49% of the vote, and Sanders 43%.

Washington, an all-vote-by-mail state, will continue counting over coming days, so the results may change. Votes must be counted and certified by March 27. About 1.5 million votes were counted Tuesday. Nearly 300,000 remain uncounted.

In Idaho, election results began coming in at 7 p.m. PT, when polls closed in the eastern part of the state. Statewide results were slow to come, and are being delivered by each county.

Biden has a healthy lead in Idaho's Nez Perce County, where Amanda Gill is the state committeewoman.

“We’re excited to have this part of the process so we can have one solid candidate that we could stand behind and move forward,” Gill said.

She says the state party didn’t endorse any of the candidates before the primary.

This primary was a new experience for many Democrats. It was the first presidential primary after years of using a caucus system.

“I personally, the caucus is really exciting, but the primary is more inclusive. I feel like the primary gives just a better system overall, especially since what we saw in Iowa,” she said.

Gill says Democrats in Idaho will now focus on choosing delegates for the upcoming state and national conventions. She says they’ll also work educate voters and find volunteers to work for the party’s nominee.

When results are complete, Washington will deliver the second-biggest haul of delegates of the state voting March 10, with 89 Democratic delegates. Idaho has 20.

One of Washington's delegates is Spokane City Council member Candace Mumm. Mumm is what’s called a “superdelegate,” meaning she’s headed to Milwaukee in July for the Democratic National Convention, where she’ll help determine the party’s nominee.

With the close vote in Washington and elsewhere between Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, Mumm says neither is a true frontrunner.

“I think what we’re setting up for here is the potential for a contested convention," she said.

That means no candidate is heading into the convention with enough votes to seal the deal. Instead, party functionaries, like herself, may end up having to figure out who to put on the ticket.

And so far, the voters in the Inland Northwest aren’t giving her much direction, she says. County by county, Biden and Sanders edge each other out.

“It looks like a checkerboard to me honestly. I think it’s going to be very close in several of these communities," she said.

Election officials will keep counting until every vote is tallied and certified on March 20. And, of course, voters in half the states have yet to vote.


Sanders showing in Washington is similar to how he performed from 2016, when he narrowly lost the primary to Hillary Clinton. But that vote didn’t count because the Democratic Party was still using a precinct caucus system in the state to divvy up delegates. 

Switching to a primary system may have hurt Sanders this year. He handily won Washington’s party-run caucuses in March 2016 with 73% of the vote. Two months later, Clinton took 53% of the vote in the state-run primary that wasn’t used to allocate delegates.

This year marks the first year the party strayed from such a system.

Four years ago, Sanders visited Spokane twice – first drawingan overflow, weekend crowd at the Spokane Convention Center. Three days later, he spoke toa smaller crowd at the largely empty Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Clinton did not visit the city, but her husband,former President Bill Clinton, spoke at Spokane Falls Community College.

This year’s Washington primary win by Trump reprises 2016, when he tromped the competition by winning more than three-quarters of the vote. His closest competitor that year was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who received 10% of the vote.

Feast And Famine

In Washington this year, the state’s 4.5 million registered voters had just one Republican to consider: Trump.

For Democrats, voters had 13 candidates to choose from, but most have already dropped their bids for the nomination. Besides Biden and Sanders, only U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii remains in the race. Before Tuesday’s vote, Gabbard had won only two delegates — from the caucuses in American Samoa — compared to Biden and Sanders’ hauls of more than 500 apiece.

Going into Tuesday and before the first round of ballots were counted, about 35% of registered voters in Washington had cast votes, already outpacing turnout for the 2016 primary.

The state has voted for a Democrat for president every election since 1988, when voters narrowly supported Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis over then-Vice President George H.W. Bush for president in the general election.

It’s a different story in Idaho, where voters have only supported one Democrat for president in the last 68 years, when Lyndon B. Johnson ran to keep the White House in 1964.

That’s not for a lack of choices. Unlike in Washington, there are six Republicans running in Idaho’s presidential primary, which is only open to registered party members. Besides Trump, the GOP primary features Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, Bob Ely, Matthew John Matern, Joe Walsh and Bill Weld.

Voters who aren’t affiliated with a party could vote for one of the 17 Democrats on the ballot, or for the Constitution Party, which had six candidates:  Don Blankenship, Daniel Clyde Cummings, Don J. Grundmann, Charles Kraut, J.R. Myers and Sheila “Samm” Tittle.

In 2018, the state Constitution Party, which has nearly 3,000 registered members, broke away from the national group. The same year, party leaders voted to open up the primary to independent voters.

According to its website, the Constitution Party “acknowledges the sovereignty of God and wants to return our country to the Constitution which is based on biblical principle.”

Idaho will hold another election May 19, when voters choose nominees for the state legislature, county offices, both congressional seats and the U.S. Senate. Sen. Jim Risch, a Republican, is seeking reelection. 

Idaho voters have until March 13 to change their party affiliation ahead of the next election.

School Funding

The Idaho ballot also has a raft of school levies for voters to consider. Of the state’s 115 school districts, 41 are asking voters to support $174 million total in property tax levies.

In the panhandle and north-central Idaho, those requests include school districts in Kellogg’s two-year, $5.97 million supplemental levy; Orofino’s two-year, $5.37 million supplemental levy; Potlatch’s one-year, $1.75 million supplemental levy; Kamiah’s two-year, $1.29 million supplemental levy; Troy’s one-year, $995,000 supplemental levy; Genesee’s one-year, $935,000 supplemental levy; Kendrick’s one-year, $810,000 supplemental levy;

Voters in Kamiah turned down a levy a year ago, leading to the closure of a middle school and subsequent space crunch at the town’s elementary and high schools.



Nick Deshais previously served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for SPR, Northwest Public Broadcasting and the Northwest News Network.