Washington Democrats turned out in record numbers Saturday to give Illinois Sen. Barack Obama a handy victory over his rival for the presidential bid, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
McCain won the Republican caucuses with just 26 percent of delegates, only slightly more than Mike Huckabee’s 24 percent, even though McCain came into the contest with a commanding national lead.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul finished a strong third at 21 percent, while Mitt Romney had 17 percent.
Obama had the support of 68 percent of precinct delegates to Clinton’s 31 percent, with nearly all caucus precincts reporting statewide Saturday night.
If the percentage holds up and the delegate process plays out through several more steps, Obama would get about 52 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, while Clinton would get 26, state Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz said.
Local Democrats who caucused Saturday also leaned heavily toward Obama, whose wife, Michelle, made a campaign appearance Friday in Spokane about the same time Clinton stumped a few miles away. In the three legislative districts wholly within Spokane County, 61 percent of precinct delegates backed Obama and 37 percent supported Clinton.
Among the Republicans statewide, McCain held a slight lead over Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, with 83 percent of precincts reporting.
But in Spokane County, it was Paul who won over the party’s most active members. The candidate, who campaigned in Spokane Jan. 31, won the support of about 46 percent of precinct delegates, with 90 percent of the county’s Republican caucuses reporting. Huckabee had 20 percent, McCain received 15 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had 9 percent. Ten percent of the county’s delegates were uncommitted.
Obama may have benefited from better organization and momentum, including a massive Seattle rally and a last-minute endorsement from Gov. Chris Gregoire.
The state’s Democratic Party estimated turnout might have been more than twice the 100,000 people who caucused in 2004.
The precinct caucuses for both parties played out in school auditoriums, church meeting halls, gymnasiums and living rooms across Washington.
Here are scenes from two Spokane County caucus sites with multiple precincts, one Democratic and one Republican:
Barack Obama carried the day at Salk Middle School in north Spokane, garnering 74 delegates to send to the county convention, to Hillary Clinton’s 42, from the 20 precincts caucusing in the cafeteria.
The temperature climbed inside the room as several hundred Democratic supporters, many of them making their first caucus appearances, packed inside.
Button- and sticker-sporting voters mobbed tables representing the 6th Legislative District precincts, many standing and straining to hear as precinct captains read instructions. Obama and Hillary signs adorned lockers and windows.
It was the biggest turnout Bob Gilmore, who has lived in the area about 45 years, had ever seen.
“It was so crowded,” said Gilmore, 77. “It’s usually an old person’s game, but I saw a lot of young people.”
Record turnout was reported around the county, Spokane County Democratic Chairwoman Kristine Reeves said.
Gilmore said his precinct split slightly in favor of Obama, while he supported Clinton, whom he sees as more experienced.
Josiah Carlson, 22, said he voted in the last primary with the goal of getting rid of someone, rather than putting one in office.
“I think he’s going to take it,” Carlson said of Obama. “I think he’s going to be a two-term president. And I think someday he’s going to be on U.S. currency.”
“I’ve never seen such excitement in young people in an election since Kennedy,” said Don Liebert, a retired professor of sociology at Whitworth University, whose precinct split 13-9 for Clinton. For many, the frenzied caucus process started with a look at a precinct map, then a hunt for the correct table.
“It seems like it’s a little disorganized, but everybody seems to be working pretty well together,” said first-time attendee Alex Dailey, 34, who recently moved here.
Many precincts divided into Clinton and Obama camps without debate, and discussions followed campaign lines. Clinton is a vetted stateswoman, supporters said, while Obama advocates contended he has the character and vision to change how the U.S. is perceived worldwide. Others debated whether Clinton is electable or if she’s polarizing
Wearing a white “Barack Obama is my homeboy” T-shirt, Whitworth political science sophomore Corey Newman dispensed stickers near the cafeteria entrance.”If we were to just actually say what we’re meaning, don’t refer to petty tricks for electability, then we could really, actually get a lot more done and solve a lot more problems,” said Newman, 19.
It was the first caucus for DaVina Hoyt, 35, who brought along her 5-year-old son, Caleb Berry. She turned out after hearing Michelle Obama speak Friday in Spokane.
She said Barack Obama “exemplifies trust, honor and respect,” Hoyt said.
Barb Girshick, 57, asserted Clinton is the only candidate who will require universal health insurance. “I feel very strongly that we need to mandate that,” Girshick said.
Obama has the ability to cross party lines and motivate people toward common goals, said Leon Sayers III, 37.
“We definitely need the change,” Sayers said. “Hillary is a part of the machine, if you will.”
At the Orchard Crest Retirement Center in Spokane Valley, where 11 GOP precincts met, Republicans faced more choices – although not as many as some would have liked. Most of the 11 Valley residents gathered around a table for Precinct 4434 said they would’ve liked to support Romney.
Had Romney not suspended his campaign earlier in the week, he would have received all six delegates that the precinct was entitled to send to the county convention. With Romney out, caucus participants settled on their second choices and elected five delegates for McCain, the party’s front-runner, and one for Paul.
“We would’ve rather been supporting Romney, but we think McCain will be a strong candidate,” said Samatha Call, a homemaker who brought the oldest of her eight children, 16-year-old Sarah, to the caucus.
Both were attending their first caucus, and while Sarah Call was too young to participate, she was getting extra credit from her Advanced Placement history class at Central Valley High School for observing. “I thought it was really interesting and fun to listen to all the conversations,” she said.
At the next table over, Paul supporters were carrying the day among most of the 13 Republican voters from Precinct 4427.
Gabriel Kellner said he wanted “someone who’s not a politician” in the White House. Even though Paul is a distant third among the three remaining GOP candidates in terms of delegates, Kellner and others argued he supported the Texas congressman for his stands on limited government, reliance on the free market and an end to the Iraq war.
Jerry Gleason, a World War II veteran who said he was leaning toward McCain, cautioned against supporting such a dark horse.
“It’s fine to be idealistic, but we waste our votes when we vote for Ron Paul,” Gleason said. McCain, he said, “is going to get the nomination anyway.”
Bob Frank, who was leaning toward Huckabee because of the candidate’s support of a flat tax, said a pullout from Iraq, as Paul has advocated, is like saying all the American casualties “died for nothing.”
Not so, said Paul supporter Alex Williams. They died honorably representing the nation and its policy at the time, Williams argued, but that’s not a reason for the U.S. to stay in Iraq.
Some of Paul’s supporters argued that the race is not over and their candidate could win with enough work by people like them. Others said if he loses, it was better to lose with honor than win with shame.
In a series of ballots, Paul collected all five of that precinct’s delegates.
Frank and Gleason were elected to be among the precinct’s five alternates, for Huckabee and McCain, respectively.
Not all caucus meetings hung on a series of votes. At a nearby table, Precinct 4435 was entitled to four delegates and had four participants show up.
They split – two for Paul, one for Huckabee and one for McCain, but without much debate or balloting.
Homemaker Karol Snook described her support for Huckabee as “taking a stand for pro-life.”
Attorney Jay Janecek said he had the most respect for McCain: “My No. 1 issue is who do we want as commander in chief.”
Brian Lalonde, a Web engineer, and Kurt Kovich, an engineering manager, said they’d studied Paul and liked his stands on a number of issues.
But all four agreed on one point: No matter who wins the Republican nomination, they’ll vote for him in November.