This year, Washington state's Feb. 19 primary election seems destined to play a significant role in deciding the winner of the Democratic nomination. And even Oregon's primary in late May, could play a key role in deciding whether Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination.
"What happens in the Oregon primary, for the first time in 40 years, is going to be very important," said Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who last week announced he was endorsing Obama. "And the way that it is going, because it is a really close contest between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, Oregon may well be in a situation where we might help put Senator Obama over the top."
Republicans in the Northwest, however, will have less opportunity to influence their party's choice of candidate. In Tuesday's primary elections Sen. John McCain secured more than half the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination, giving him an impressive lead that will be hard to beat.
That doesn't please Jim Henry, a city councilman in Poulsbo, Wash., and a member of the National Black Republican Association. Henry said his candidate, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson has dropped out, and while he will support the Republican candidate, McCain doesn't excite him.
"… the others they just don't have that pull," Henry said. "I'm not sure McCain has it; he's just the lesser of two evils."
Henry said he doesn't feel he knows enough about Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to support him. "I don't have that warm fuzzy feeling about him, that's all," he said. "There's nothing that I can put my finger on: I don't know him. Right now everyone's telling you everything, (you want to hear) and I'm for believing no-one."
Henry said he would have preferred Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney over McCain. "Romney was all right, I have no qualms about him," he said. "It's just on personality. I just believe he can be trusted."
Frances Rice, chair of the National Black Republican Association, was equally unimpressed with the results so far. "As it is, we have four liberals in the race," she said, referring to Clinton, Obama, McCain and Huckabee.
Rice, who voted for Romney in the Florida primary won by McCain, said people need to look at both McCain and Huckabee's voting records instead of at their talking points or conservative religious viewpoints.
"The populist rhetoric has attracted people to Huckabee," she said.
But dissatisfaction with the Republican primaries doesn't mean Rice would prefer a Democrat. Democrats, she says, "have been using the politics of personal destruction" and pulling the "race and gender cards" to their advantage against Republicans, depicting any African American who does not toe a liberal party line as a traitor to his or her race.
In the Democratic battle, both Clinton and Obama showed strength. Clinton won several heavily populated states including: New Jersey, New York, California and notably Massachussetts, where local hero Sen. Ted Kennedy and former President John Kennedy's daughter, Caroline Kennedy, had endorsed and campaigned for Obama.
Obama had his own triumphs Tuesday, winning in Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and his home state of Illinois.
The formula for calculating how many delegates each will receive is complex, but according to estimates from the Associated Press, Clinton now has 787 pledged delegates compared to Obama's 763. More of the superdelegates (see sidebar) previously had agreed to vote for Clinton, but they are not bound to do so.
In Oregon, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley endorsed Clinton months back, along with Josh Kardon, chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, Bob Williams, co-founder and co-chair of the Black Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon and Portland City Councilman Erik Sten.
But in recent weeks Obama's momentum has grown. His endorsers now include: U.S. Rep Earl Blumenauer, schools superintendent Susan Castillo, State Treasurer Randall Edwards, Sen. Avel Gordly, Reps. Chip Shields, Larry Galizio and Ben Cannon and the Oregonian newspaper.
The trend is toward Obama, Blumenauer said."Senator Obama is really touching people in a way that nobody else is and he would not only be a strong leader for Democrats," Blumenauer said. "He would be able to reach out and unite the country and I think that that is very important right now."
Blumenauer said that while he likes and respects Clinton, and believes she would make a good president, Obama will bring fresh energy into American politics, energy that will change Washington for the better.
"What people are noticing … is that Senator Obama has been a very skilful politician for much longer than just his few years in the Senate," he said. "He was a community activist on the ground in Chicago; he was a very effective state senator in Illinois, which is kind of a rough and tumble place. And his appeal to independents and moderates, not just Democrats, and his speaking to young people, makes him match up very strongly against Senator McCain."
President John Kennedy was younger than Obama when he was elected, Blumenauer points out, and President Bill Clinton wasn't much older.
John Branam, a candidate for Portland City Council, says Obama has leapt ahead even after initial fears that his race would negatively affect his appeal across Middle America.
"Clearly his message of change is an important for America," he says. "As a younger voter myself, Obama's message of hope, change and visionary leadership resonates with me personally."
Cyreena Boston, a Democrat running for Oregon House District 45, said she too is an Obama supporter. Yet Boston said she understands why women of color, like herself, are struggling to decide on a candidate. "For the first time, we're really understanding that looking at someone's race and gender is important," she said. "(Because) when it comes to really good Democrats, it can be hard to tell them apart. (Voters) want to know if they can trust you."
In Washington, Sen. Clinton's supporters include: U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, former Gov. Gary Locke, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Ron Sims, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and more than a few state legislators.
But last week Obama's endorsements started rolling in. His supporters include: Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, state Sen. Majority leader Lisa Brown, King County Council member Larry Gossett and several Seattle-area legislators.
Sen. Rosa Franklin of Tacoma, also has decided to endorse Obama.
"This man is an inspired leader," Franklin told The Skanner. "who is going to be able to unite our country and bring us together. He reaches out to young people, to people who don't participate and who feel excluded. This generation really needs to be included and brought into the decision making.
Washington needs a president who will bring in new ideas and new people, she said.
"You have to have bold new ideas to make changes because changes don't come very easily. You have to be a bold leader – leadership means being willing to take risks."
Despite Clinton's early lead, Obama has the momentum to win the nomination, Franklin said.
"Now I like Hillary Clinton. I've worked for her and I would do that again. But Obama can bring the country together. And he gives people that feeling that 'you can do it'.
Even if he doesn't become the standard bearer, he's not going to go away. McCain didn't go away, did he?"
So how much closer are we to choosing a president? November is still a long way away, said Jim Henry. "They still have a lot of time to fall flat on their faces — and that's for both parties."
And no matter who wins, the burden will feel heavy, he said. "Of course when you do get in there, the morning after you get into office, everybody is in a state of shock — and that includes Carter and Clinton and probably even Ronald Reagan. They're going, 'Oh My God! What kind of a mess did I get myself into.'"