ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The presidential primary calendar is the most front-loaded it's ever been. There's a good chance the two parties' nominations will be clinched as early as February 5th. By that time, more than half the states, including several of the most populous, would've made their picks. But that leaves voters in the rest of the country looking for other ways to help choose their candidates.
NPR's Martin Kaste has this report from the state of Washington.
Unidentified Group: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
MARTIN KASTE: This scene is a civics teacher's dream. A couple hundred College Republicans and Young Democrats gathered in a lecture hall at the University of Washington for their quarterly debate.
Unidentified Man #1: No one's planning to invade Iran as much as the Democrats might hope.
Unidentified Man #2: Dick Cheney is.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man #1: The bogeyman Dick Cheney is about to invade Iran, okay.
KASTE: These are politically engaged students. And yet, few of them expect to have any voice in this year's primary races.
Mr. ANDREW EVERETT(ph) (Student): I don't see how somebody in the state of Washington has much of a say in anything.
KASTE: Does that bother you?
Mr. EVERETT: Yes.
KASTE: Undergrad Andrew Everett says this state's party caucuses on February 9th and the primary on February 19th are just too late in the game. The sense here on campus, he says, is that the presidential nominees are being chosen somewhere else.
Mr. EVERETT: People I know are willing to fly across the country to go help in the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire because they know that it's going to be pretty much determined by those and not by anything that's done here.
KASTE: Washington is one of those states that tried to become more relevant by moving up its primary date. But other bigger states moved theirs up even earlier. As a result, the major campaigns are barely visible here.
(Soundbite of people talking)
KASTE; And that's left more room for the second-tier candidates, such as the libertarian-leaning Republican, Ron Paul.
In Seattle, his supporters organized themselves using social networking Web sites, people like Chip Barron.
Mr. CHIP BARRON (Ron Paul Supporter): I'm giving Ron Paul some of my, you know, time on the weekends knocking doors. I'm giving him some of my time that I've spent at work. It's just - it's all love.
KASTE: Barron and about 20 other Paul supporters met at an Indian restaurant on Tuesday night to celebrate that day's money bomb. That's what they call the 24-hour national fundraising blitz that generated over $4 million for their candidate.
Matt Dubin was tracking the day's cash flow on his handheld computer.
Mr. MATT DUBIN (Ron Paul Supporter): So as of 10:56 p.m. Eastern, we have raised $3.729 million.
KASTE: The relative lateness of Washington's primary does not perturb these Paul supporters. The way Dubin sees it, they're already voting - with their credit cards.
Mr. DUBIN: Money is really how we can express ourselves collectively. It's how we can have our voice be heard.
KASTE: And they consider themselves to be deeply involved in Paul's New Hampshire campaign even though it's clear across the country. It's long-distance activism. As if to underscore that point, Dubin handed his pocket P.C. to Chip Barron…
Mr. DUBIN: There's a keyboard. It doesn't really light up that well.
KASTE: …because Barron was feeling the urge to log on and send the campaign one more donation before the night was over. But voting with one's wallet is not consolation for everyone.
Oscar McBride(ph) works in the heart of Seattle in view of the yachts on Lake Union and the Gates Foundation just down the street. He knows the candidates come to town for the big money, the bundled donations raised by the employees of various tech companies. But he wishes they came here looking for his vote too.
Mr. OSCAR MCBRIDE (Seattle Resident): If you're talking about cash and you make the politics about cash, then IBM has, like, a million times more say in my politics than I do. But in terms of, like, actual voting, IBM didn't get a vote. But I get a vote. So that vote should matter.
KASTE: McBride is so worried about having to choose between Giuliani and Clinton next year, he's thought about moving somewhere where his primary vote might count for more. But he has decided to stay in Washington.
Mr. MCBRIDE: I'll probably wind up going door to door for one of the campaigns. I'm going to go door to door and say the process is important even though it's flawed.
KASTE: And who knows? There is a chance that the February 5th super primary will fail to produce clear winners. And then states like Washington could suddenly find themselves in a more decisive role.
Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.