We talk with the Spokane County Democrats chair about why Biden beat Sanders in Washington, and what he would need to do to beat Trump

Derek Harrison photo

Back in 2016, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders dominated Washington state's caucuses with over 72 percent of the vote. Sure, Hillary Clinton won the nonbinding primary a few months later, but the overall impression was clear: Washington state was Bernie country.

This year? Not so much. Washington state Democrats switched to a binding primary, and Sanders may have suffered as a result.

With some early voters choosing candidates who dropped out, like Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden is leading Bernie Sanders by 2 percentage points. Biden is winning Spokane County, too.

We talked with Spokane County's Democratic Party Chair Ed Wood on Wednesday of last week — while the vote was still being counted — about what changed and what Biden, who increasingly appears to be the likely nominee, would need to do to bring the country together.

Our interview has been edited for space and clarity.

INLANDER: Sanders dominated Hillary Clinton in Washington state in 2016, but got beat by Biden this year. What changed?

WOOD: That has surprised me — especially due to the fact that Joe Biden really didn't have much of a campaign in this state, and Bernie did. I actually attribute that to the difference between the caucus and the primary, because a primary allowed far more people to be involved. A caucus is kind of restrictive: You have to be able to get there. It doesn't account for babysitting. It doesn't account for people who have to work. This way, they have a chance to vote. The more people who have a chance to have a say-so, the better it is.

You have to remember, there's still going to be a caucus — it's going to be on April 26.

How have you seen the divide between Sanders supporters and Biden supporters play out in Spokane County?

There's a large contingent of Sanders supporters, a very organized group. On the Biden side, I think they're just getting organized now in Spokane. There hadn't been, coming up to this primary, much from Biden to be honest with you. As far as I know, he didn't really have any campaign people here, other than people like [local Democratic Party legend] Sally Jackson who is a Biden supporter. I think you're seeing that ramp up now.

The white working-class voters and Midwest voters who were in favor of Sanders in the 2016 election seem to have been more supportive of Biden this time. What do you attribute that to?

Biden, I think, is closer to the center. He's more moderate, especially to the people in the center of this country. They tend to be a little bit more conservative than, say, the people who live and work in Washington and California.

If Joe Biden asked you for some advice, what would you say to him?

Make sure you talk to the people who are the base of the Democratic Party. Go back and talk to the union workers — the people who work for a living in this country who have walked away from the Democratic Party and get them back. That's how we will win this election. The base of the Democratic Party are not radical voters.

Is there anything that you see as a distraction that the Democrats shouldn't be talking about?

When you go to talking about your right to bear arms? That's an issue you shouldn't be talking about. The ruling by the Supreme Court says we all have the right to bear arms. I happen to own weapons myself. That shouldn't be a subject we should scream and yell about. It's a done issue.

I call for talking to the voters about the bread-and-butter issues that affect their families. Can you make your house payment? Can you buy food? Can you afford your health care? That's the kind of stuff we should be talking about. Those are the kinds of issues we need to be talking about, not talking about guns. ♦

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...