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Big turnout, little agreement on candidates at GOP caucuses

Sun., March 4, 2012

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 the Texas congressman’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.”

But 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.”

A couple hundred people from 20 voting precincts attended caucuses at the Corbin center and thousands turned out across the county. Spokane County Republican Party Chairman Matthew Pederson said turnout was “far beyond any estimation.” He had estimated it would be three to four times more than in the GOP caucuses in 2008.

Caucus-goers 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.

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. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. None supported former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

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 mother of five. “It 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, and 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 by no means unanimous.

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

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

Gina McKenzie’s precinct near Corbin Park cast 10 votes for Santorum, seven for Romney and one 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.”

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