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Eye On Boise

Big turnouts reported for tonight’s Idaho Dem caucus

Democrats line up for Ada County Democratic presidential caucus in downtown Boise, on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 (AP / Otto Kitsinger)
Democrats line up for Ada County Democratic presidential caucus in downtown Boise, on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 (AP / Otto Kitsinger)

Here’s the latest on tonight’s Idaho Democratic Party presidential caucuses, including big turnouts delaying start times in Ada County:

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Democratic Party leaders delayed the scheduled 7 p.m. start time for the Ada County presidential caucus to accommodate long lines of people still waiting to enter the site.

By 5:30 p.m. — just a half hour after doors opened at a downtown Boise event center and sports stadium — lines of eager had wrapped three city blocks waiting to get in. The doors were supposed to be locked to any new-comers at 7 p.m. so the caucus proceedings could begin. But with hundreds still waiting, officials postponed the start time until everyone could be register for the event.

Participants braved chilly winds waiting to get indoors, but remained cheerful as campaign organizers offered face painting and other finished signs supporting their candidate of choice.

State Democratic Party leaders are hoping for a repeat of 2008, which saw a record number of caucus-goers. Signs suggest they're on track.

Four of Idaho's most populated counties had to make last-minute changes to expand or add new caucus venues to accommodate the expected large crowds.

"Interest in Idaho in recent weeks has really ramped up," party spokesman Dean Ferguson said.

Full crowds are not expected in eastern Idaho, which has a robust Republican stronghold and a high Mormon population. Ten counties east of more liberal-leaning Ada County had split into five pairs to share caucus locations Tuesday.

"Those counties are still in the startup phases," Ferguson said.

Some young voters are eagerly anticipating their first foray into politics at the caucus.

Justin Pallister, a 17-year-old Meridian High School senior, said his participation in the Ada County caucus will be his first time taking part in an election. Seventeen-year-olds are allowed to caucus in Idaho and several other states as long as they'll turn 18 before the Nov. 8 general election.

Pallister will be caucusing with 10 of his friends, he said, also first-timers. He's rooting for a little-known candidate, San Diego businessman Rocky De La Fuente.

"He has a low chance of winning so we want to see if we can get him somewhere," Pallister said. "We have to go there and make people change their minds."

Clinton has had an active campaign in the state for several weeks, and Sanders spoke at two rallies in Idaho in the past few days. Those efforts could encourage both new and longtime Democrats to participate in the caucus.

Ferguson expects to match or exceed the turnout from 2008, when a rare visit by a presidential candidate — Barack Obama — whipped up interest in the state. About 21,000 people attended the Idaho Democratic caucus that year, up from only 5,000 in 2004.

This year, organizers in Kootenai County, which includes the city of Coeur d'Alene, added a second caucusing site to ensure there's enough room for attendees. Bannock County officials moved their caucus from Idaho State University to a bigger venue. Buses will be available to ferry participants from the university campus to the new Fort Hall site, organizers say.

Canyon County party officials will use more of their venue — a local school — than originally planned. Ada County officials initially reserved a downtown event center but now have also reserved a sports arena next door and the outdoor space between the buildings.

Caucus-goers will decide among four options: Clinton, Sanders, De La Fuente and uncommitted. Spokespeople for the candidates will debate and attempt to sway attendees to join their groups.

Candidates must get at least 15 percent of the participants to qualify for any delegates. The delegates chosen at the county caucuses will support their candidate at the state Democratic convention, and from there, 27 delegates will be awarded to go to the national nominating convention.

Idaho's younger voters seem energized by Sanders, while Clinton appears to have lifelong Democrats excited, Ferguson said. Both campaigns have devoted resources to Idaho.

"People keep asking which way it's going, and we hear a lot of support for both of them," Ferguson said. "There's also lifelong Dems supporting Bernie and young people supporting Hillary. It's hard to say how it will go."

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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