BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, we'll know how George W. Bush and John McCain did in the Republican primary, and how Al Gore and Bill Bradley did in the Democratic primary. The pundits will also have told us who got a bounce out of Washington state, and who was left on the floor bleeding like a rat in a trap. But while the national media is paying a lot of attention to Washington state's primaries -- a must-win for Bradley, a must-not-lose for W. -- the real action in Washington state actually takes place next Tuesday, March 7, when Republicans and Democrats gather for their precinct caucuses.

Some basics, once again, for the election impaired: In most states, delegates are awarded to candidates based on the votes they gather during the primaries. The candidate with the most delegates wins his party's nomination. However, our state's primary was much ado about next to nothing. No delegates were awarded in Tuesday's Democratic primary -- strictly a beauty contest -- and only 12 of 37 Republican delegates were awarded. The real contest in Washington state happens on March 7 when Republicans and Democrats gather for their precinct caucuses. Precincts are the smallest of voting districts (my dictionary defines a precinct as a neighborhood), and in dense urban areas a precinct can be as small as two square blocks. The votes cast at the precinct caucuses next Tuesday determine just how many of Washington's Democratic and Republican delegates are awarded to Gore or Bradley, McCain or Bush. Stranger readers can help determine which candidate walks away with the most delegates -- and since the only race that matters right now is on the Republican side, we'd like to encourage you to show up at a Republican caucus meeting.

Sure, in The Stranger's recent sex survey, 97 percent of our readers identified themselves as Democrats or Independents -- the kind of voters who helped McCain whip W.'s ass in Michigan. But there's nothing to stop all you Dems and Indies from hijacking your Republican Precinct Caucus. While you do have to be registered to vote to take part, you don't have to be a registered Republican. Hell, even if you voted Democratic in Tuesday's primary, you can still show up at next Tuesday's Republican precinct caucuses and make troub -- er, I mean, participate in our great democracy.

Do I need to spell it out for you? Attending a Democratic caucus, the goo-goo thing to do, would be a waste of your time and your caucus vote. Only those glassy-eyed sign-wavers moping around Bradley's First Avenue campaign headquarters seem to think Bill has a chance of beating Gore. News flash, Bradley volunteers: Ronald Reagan has a better chance of doing long division than Bill Bradley has of winning the Democratic nomination. Yes, Bill Bradley is better on gun control. Yes, Al Gore waffled on abortion 20 years ago. Yes, Bill Bradley is taller. Yes, Al Gore shook down a Buddhist monastery -- and so what? Gore isn't that far from Bradley on most issues, and Gore will do what it takes to win -- and winning, my friends, is what this running-for-president stuff is about. Ask yourself -- would you rather get half a loaf on health care from someone who won the election or no loaf at all from the guy who lost? W.'s aura of inevitability was shattered when the voting started, while Gore's aura of inevitability, once threatened by Bradley, has been enhanced by the voting. So, give it up, Bradley mopes; it's over.

So, my fellow co-conspirators (my co-co-conspirators?), who should you vote for at your upcoming Republican Precinct Caucus? George W. Bush, of course. However appealing the war hero schtick and campaign finance reform stuff may be, smart lefties and moderates aren't falling for the dim-witted strategy of toppling W. with crossover McCain votes.

"Have the Democrats concluded that George W. Bush would be by far the stronger Republican candidate and that helping John McCain win the nomination will ultimately benefit the Democratic nominee, Bradley or Gore?" Ted Koppel recently asked on ABC's Nightline. "Is that what's going on here?"

Conservative commentator William Kristol, editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard and a McCain supporter, said on Nightline that if there were a conspiracy, he would welcome it. "It would be an extremely stupid conspiracy," said Kristol. "John McCain is consistently beating Al Gore in the polls. George Bush is running even with Al Gore in the polls. McCain is clearly, at least for now, the stronger opponent to Al Gore."

Listen to Billy Kristol! You DO NOT want McCain in the White House. Immediately after his win in Michigan, McCain began running commercials boasting that he was a Reagan Republican, a true-blue social conservative. He's against gun control; he's anti-environment; he voted to remove Clinton from office during the Monica mess; and he recently endorsed an anti-gay ballot initiative in California. To prove he's a pro-lifer, McCain invited fetus-hugging right-winger and former Republican candidate Gary Bauer to ride shotgun on the Straight Talk Express. McCain is charming, sure -- a quotable, likable right-winger in the style of Ronald Reagan -- which is why you don't want him running against Al Gore in November.

And while McCain took a gamble and attacked Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Bob Jones -- the entire religious right, actually -- in a speech the day before Tuesday's primaries, it's important to note that McCain did not attack the right on social issues. "We are the party of Ronald Reagan, not Pat Robertson," said McCain. "We are the party of Theodore Roosevelt, not special interests. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, not Bob Jones." Thrilling stuff, sure, but total bullshit: The Republican party is now and will be Pat Robertson's party for long into the forseeable future. In attacking Robertson, McCain wasn't coming out in favor of abortion rights or gay marriage. John McCain attacked Pat Robertson for attacking John McCain, complaining that Robertson distorted his sterling pro-life voting record. Fact is, before he began to threaten the Robertson-anointed Bush, the former POW was beloved by the religious right. Indeed, his voting record earned him extremely high marks from Robertson's Christian Coalition.

There is, I'll concede, one reason to support McCain next Tuesday. Every day McCain remains viable, W. has to spend money beating him back. Once upon a time, in a campaign long, long ago, W. had so much money -- 70 million, billion, trillion dollars -- that he was expected to smirk his way to the nomination, leaving him with plenty of money to bury Gore or Bradley in the general election. McCain's unexpectedly viable candidacy has not only forced W. to spend money like, well, like a liberal, it's also forced W. to run into the arms of racists and Catholic-bashers on the hard right, a move that's going to cost W. votes in November. If you're looking for a rationalization to vote for McCain at your Republican Caucus, here it is -- but you'll feel awful if you accidentally help elect McCain in November. Conspiracy buffs love a good double-cross -- I know I do -- but you have to be careful your machinations don't become so complex that you wind up double-crossing yourself in the end.

Hijacking your precinct caucus is easier than you might think. Again, you don't have to be a registered Republican. If you live in a heavily Democratic district -- Wallingford, Fremont, Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, Mount Baker, First Hill -- odds are you'll be the only person who shows up for your Republican precinct caucus. (To find our where your Republican precinct caucus is, call (206) 575-2900.) Get a few friends from your block to go with you and you'll easily outnumber -- and easily roll over -- any actual Republicans who show up. The caucus opens at 7:30 p.m., but balloting doesn't start until 8:00, so feel free to show up at 7:59.

Every precinct gets to elect a delegate to the county convention, and if you're the only person at your caucus -- which, again, is likely if you live in Seattle -- feel free to elect yourself. Delegates to the King County Republican Convention in April elect delegates to the Washington State Republican Convention in June, who, in turn, elect delegates to the Republican National Convention in August. Play your cards right, and you could go all the way to Philadelphia! And remember: Just because you're a Republican delegate doesn't mean you have to vote for the Republican candidate in the general election. Come November, you're free to vote your conscience.

Provided, of course, that you have one.

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