Democrats in the conservative stronghold of Kootenai County finally threw a party for a winner. Local supporters of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama who gathered Thursday night to watch the Iowa caucuses cheered as he won.
“This is exactly how I wanted it to turn out,” said Daniel Megow, of Post Falls, a local Obama campaign volunteer who helped organize a party at Cricket’s Bar in downtown Coeur d’Alene to watch Obama’s fight in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
About 45 people joined the party, a large turnout in a Republican county in one of the country’s most Republican states. Even though Obama is the only Democratic presidential candidate with a campaign office in Idaho, and his debate watch party the only one in town, Megow still thought the turnout was remarkable.
Beyond Idaho’s reputation as a solid Republican state, there’s the lingering stigma of racism associated with the former Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake, he said: “It hasn’t been that long since we got the Aryan Nations out of here. This much support for Obama is just exceptional.”
While presidential campaigns were waiting to see whether Iowa would invigorate or kill their chances for the White House, Inland Northwest supporters of three candidates were using Thursday’s caucuses as a chance to mingle and get energized for campaign events closer to home. Caucuses for Idaho Democrats and members of both major parties in Washington are slightly more than a month away.
Supporters of Democrats Obama and John Edwards and Republican Ron Paul gathered to watch the results roll in from Iowa. And while Obama supporters clearly had the best night as their candidate was the easy Democratic winner in Iowa, Paul and Edwards supporters also found reasons to cheer.
Jeff Whiteside, a Paul supporter who helped organize a caucus watch party that drew about 50 people to Big Daddy’s restaurant on Spokane’s South Hill, was happy as a screen showed the Texas congressman dueling with former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson for fourth place. Although Paul would later finish fifth, he was in double digits, with 10 percent of the delegates awarded by the caucuses, and ahead of a much better known and better financed Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City.
“We’ve been planning for the last six months. We have a definite strategy in place,” Whiteside said.
The Iowa caucuses are not directly comparable to what Washington Republicans face, he added. Unlike Iowa, there’s no tally of support for individual candidates at the caucuses, and half the GOP delegates will be awarded on the basis of the Feb. 19 primary.
“We have to have two strategies in play,” said Michael Cathcart, another organizer of the Paul watch party.
Part of that strategy involves putting up signs asking “Who is Ron Paul?” On Thursday that strategy paid off. Former Spokane County Commissioner Phil Harris said he saw one of the signs, couldn’t answer the question and looked Paul up on the Internet. Although he wasn’t committed to Paul, Harris said he came to the caucus watch party to find out more.
Across Spokane at the Carpenters Union hall, about three dozen Edwards supporters started the night on a high note as the earliest returns showed the former North Carolina senator leading both Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. After about an hour, Edwards had slipped to second, but organizer Andrew Brewer said Edwards and his supporters were in the race for the long run. They would soon be training people for the upcoming Washington caucuses and contacting people who supported him during the 2004 caucuses to get them active again.
Former state Rep. Dennis Dellwo said he was torn between Edwards and John Kerry four years ago, but is leaning toward Edwards this year. He doesn’t know enough about Obama yet and while he’s impressed with Clinton, he’s unconvinced she can win.
“I like to back somebody I think has a chance,” Dellwo said.
Over in Coeur d’Alene, baby boomers John and Paula Neils, of Hauser, said they came to the Obama party mainly for the excitement. They haven’t yet decided which Democrat to support but they lean toward Obama.
“I’m tired of the divisiveness in politics,” said John Neils, a 61-year-old Vietnam War veteran who describes himself as an independent. “I think Obama has the best chance of uniting the country.”
Joe Tamasoniu, an 18-year-old senior at Post Falls High School, said he’s excited to participate in the Kootenai County caucus at North Idaho College and vote. He came to the party with three friends to experience the process. The four sat in the corner at what they dubbed the “noisy, long-hair kids table” under the two televisions broadcasting the Iowa caucus results. Between Obama cheers they discussed their dislike for Sen. Clinton, their favorite rock band T-shirts and the lack of interest in politics by their peers.
“I’m not surprised by the lack of young people,” Tamasoniu said. “It’s a Thursday night and there’s no school tomorrow.”