Bernie Sanders won enthusiastic support from Idaho Democrats Tuesday, winning 78 percent of the vote in the party’s caucus.
Only Utah and his home state of Vermont has given him a larger margin of victory.
Sanders’ hold on Kootenai County Democrats was evident an hour before the caucus began, as his supporters lined to enter the auditorium greatly outnumbered Hillary Clinton’s.
The lopsided support only increased in North Idaho College’s Boswell Hall, as many first-time caucus goers, young and old, packed into the seats among like-minded voters.
They chanted louder, gave more full-throated speeches, and Sanders won both rounds of voting with 76 percent of the vote. A third round was canceled because many attendees started to leave.
About 1,200 people showed up at the college campus, and along with another caucus site at the county fairgrounds, the total number of caucus goers reached 2,140, according to party officials, an unprecedented number. In 2008, about 1,200 Democrats caucused in the county.
Many other caucus locations across the state reported big turnout often inspired by Sanders.
Clearly, Sanders has excited Idaho’s Democrats.
Sanders won strong statewide, winning all but one county, Lewis. He won Latah County and Boundary counties with 84 percent support and Bonner County with 79 percent.
At the Kootenai County event, an image of the Vermont senator on the stage’s screen was enough to goad the north side of the theater into raucous cheers, either in a full-throated roar or a chant of “Feel the Bern,” which sounded similar to how another crowd might chant, “USA!” The only other name that drew as much noise as Sanders was that of Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, but his name brought jeers and boos.
With 20 minutes to go before the doors to the caucus site closed and voting began, Clinton’s side of the theater was opened up to Sanders’ people, who overflowed with gusto.
When the doors were closed, the caucus began, a rowdy affair with undercurrents of conversation happening at nearly all times.
Paula Neils, the Kootenai County Democratic Party chairwoman, ran the caucus, occasionally reprimanding the crowd as too loud or impolite. With the doors closed, she made sure everyone was sitting in the correct spot and first asked for Clinton’s supporters to cheer. Next, she asked Sanders’ people to yell, and the room shook with a roar. Finally, she asked about supporters of Rocky de la Fuente, a California businessman who is running in a handful of states.
“Is there anybody here who is supporting that person?” Neils said, and no hands went up. The crowd laughed. “We hear he is from California.”
Fuente ended up with not a single person voting for him.
Despite being out-caucused 3-to-1, Clinton’s supporters were devoted.
Terry Moore, 60, came from Post Falls with her friend Valerie Kresge, 54, of Coeur d’Alene. Both women support Clinton, saying she had the best chance to win in November.
“The only reason I’m supporting her is because we need somebody who is going to beat the clown train, and by that I mean Trump,” said Moore. “All I care about is no Trump and no Cruz. I just want a Democrat to win.”
Kresge agreed, calling Trump a “bombastic buffoon.”
“He’s the biggest bully,” she said. Both said they liked Sanders, but Clinton had the experience to be president.
Post Falls resident Timothy Mottern, 35, disagreed. He said Obama has put the country on the right track, and Clinton would maintain that path. But he said Sanders would make the country a better place.
“Why have good enough when you can have better?” he said, adding that Sanders’ pledge to get big money out of politics resonated with him.
Jeremy Curtis, 38, came from Post Falls with his mother-in-law, Mary Lou Robinson, 58, who is from Rathdrum. Curtis voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, and voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. This year, he’s undecided.
“There are pros and cons on both sides,” he said, adding that he wanted the Democratic campaign to last as long as possible. “The longer both of these candidates are in the race, the better they’ll be.”
Despite his indecision, he was leaning toward Sanders due to the Vermont senator’s very liberal views.
“You have so many people pulled to the right right now with Trump, we have to have that balance,” he said.
Before voting began, a speaker from each side took the stage to argue for their candidate.
Tanner Brereton, 22, spoke for the undecided position. He skewered both sides, leading to someone from the audience to yell, “Why are you here?”
He called Sanders’ campaign a “hype train” populated by people “my age” who had no idea why they supported Sanders. Clinton’s side cheered but Brereton interrupted them, saying, “I have never seen someone break the rules more than Hillary.”
At that, the crowd rumbled in disapproval and he raised his hands in mock surprise before crudely dismissing Trump as a “maniac.” The crowd cheered.
Despite Brereton’s speech, the 25 people who said they were undecided did not muster enough votes to qualify for delegates.
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