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GOP turn out in force for local caucuses

A couple of decades after voting for independent presidential candidate Ross Perot, Greg Keller regrets the choice.

Keller was one of nine participants in his precinct caucus Saturday morning at the Corbin Senior Activity Center, and he was outnumbered by supporters of Ron Paul as he argued politely against Paul’s candidacy.

“It was my bad back then and I won’t do that once again,” said Keller, who fears that Paul may not back the eventual Republican nominee. “It’s important that we all stand behind the Republican candidate who is nominated.”

A couple hundred people from 20 voting precincts attended caucuses at the Corbin center.

Many who showed up were first-time caucus participants who learned that picking a presidential nominee is much more complicated in a caucus than in a normal election.

They sat in groups as small as four and as large as a couple dozen in crowded activity rooms. They picked their presidential favorite, talked about the party platform and voted for delegates who will represent them at the county convention. Participants at the county convention will elect candidates to the party’s state convention in June, when the party will finally pick who will represent the state at the national party convention.

Participants wrote down their top pick for president when they signed in. Those selections were tabulated to determine the winner of the state’s GOP straw poll. While the winner will get bragging rights that could give a candidate momentum heading into Super Tuesday, when 10 states including Idaho hold primaries or caucuses, no delegates are awarded delegates based on the poll. There were thousands who participated at dozens of locations county-wide. Spokane County Republican Party Chairman Matthew Pederson said turnout was “far beyond any estimation.” He had estimated it would be three to four time more than in the GOP caucuses in 2008.

In Keller’s precinct, which is bordered by Francis, Division, Rowan and Wall, six supported Paul, two supported former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and one supported former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. None supported former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Amber McGuire, who owns a home schooling bookstore, responded to Keller for the Paul supporters, by repeating Paul’s line from his rally Friday at the Spokane Convention Center. Paul was asked if he would ever put party “above your principles.”

He responded: “Never,” and got a standing ovation.

“That’s something I appreciate about him,” McGuire said. “He can actually stand on what he’s done.”

Nate Hoeksema, a funeral director, said he supports Paul because he’s the candidate whose record most clearly shows his opposition to government “overreach.”

“This presidential election is just sort of a line in the sand,” he said. “I have to just vote my conscience.”

Kelly Landin participated with her awake, yet patient, 10-month-old daughter, Katie Landin, on her lap. She voiced her support for Santorum.

“My big concern about Ron Paul is his foreign policies,” said Landin, a stay-at-home mom of five. “I don’t think he realizes that extreme Islam is a real threat and we have to fight back.”

Paul was the top finisher in the Spokane County caucuses in 2008, a result that caused division within the local Republican Party. Many long-time party participants formed a counter group, the Republicans of Spokane County.

Hoeksema said Paul’s support in Eastern Washington can be explained by the state’s usual political divide.

“People on the east side are used to being alienated politically, so if there’s somebody who stands up for their values who’s also an underdog, they’re going to identify with them,” Hoeksema said.

While support for Paul was strong in the room in many precincts, it was Romney who came out on top county-wide, though barely. He beat Santorum by 10 votes. Paul, who held two rallies at the Spokane Convention Center in the last three weeks, slipped to disappointing third.

Morgan Oyler’s precinct near Audobon Park voted for Romney.

“He’s the most credible general election candidate,” said Oyler, who ran unsuccessfully for state Legislature in 2010.

Gina McKenzie’s precinct near Corbin Park cast 10 votes for Santorum, 7 for Romney and 1 each for Paul and Gingrich.

“We need a change,” said McKenzie, who supports Romney. “We’re doomed if we have four more years of Obama in office.”

Laura Schlangen wasn’t planning to help select a Republican presidential nominee.

But she changed her mind after receiving a nasty recorded phone call Friday night that blasted Santorum. She wasn’t sure who paid for the call but assumes it was from a group supporting Romney, or as she labeled it “one of Romney’s henchmen.”

So Schlangen, who lives near Audubon Elementary School, came to the caucuses. At the start she said she would select Santorum or Paul. After hearing the rest of her precinct’s attendees, she sided with Paul.

“I firmly believe in the Constitution,” she said, explaining her choice.