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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Bill Clinton will campaign for Hillary Clinton in Spokane on Monday

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, speak at a "Get Out The Vote Rally" in Columbia, S.C., Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. (Gerald Herbert / AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, speak at a "Get Out The Vote Rally" in Columbia, S.C., Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. (Gerald Herbert / AP)

Former President Bill Clinton is coming to Spokane on Monday, just days before Idaho and Washington’s Democratic caucuses help determine if his wife, Hillary Clinton, will be the party’s presidential nominee.

His visit will be on the heels of a swing through Spokane by Clinton’s rival for the nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is holding a rally Sunday evening at the Spokane Convention Center.

If it wasn’t already clear to Democratic voters, the campaign visits by the two men make it even more evident: the battle for the Democratic nomination is still being waged, and votes from the Inland Northwest are anything but an afterthought for the candidates.

Local Democrats say they haven’t seen such enthusiasm since 2008, when Clinton faced a relatively unknown challenger named Barack Obama. No one expected this year’s race to match the excitement generated by the historic nature of that race. But it has.

Paula Neils, chairwoman of the Kootenai County Democratic Party, said another caucus site had to be opened in preparation for Tuesday’s caucuses, which she expected to match the 2008 attendance of more than 1,300 voters. In 2012, just 150 people caucused in the county.

“The surge of interest in Bernie is what has prompted part of it, definitely,” Neils said. “I would like to think it’s a backlash against the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump. But mainly I think it’s the excitement about Bernie.”

Jim CastroLang, chair of the Spokane County Democrats, agreed, noting that the interest in Sanders has led to a closer race, which in turn has led to a need for the campaigns to rally their supporters here.

“I think Bernie sees a big opportunity in Washington state, and he’s in need of chalking up a few more victories,” CastroLang said.

And everyone expects the visits to drive even more people to caucus on March 26.

“Definitely. The fact that Bernie’s decided to come here and President Clinton has decided to come to town will have people that weren’t paying attention all of a sudden paying attention,” CastroLang said.

Clearly, Sanders’ candidacy has shaken up a race that many thought was Clinton’s to lose. But not everyone credits him as the only candidate driving excited voters to the polls.

Amy Biviano, who has run as a Democrat candidate for local offices in recent years, said she’s “very solidly” supporting Clinton.

“By far she is the most qualified candidate. I really think it’s important to elect somebody with the experience as secretary of state,” she said. “Especially right now. The rhetoric on the other side of the aisle is very scary, in terms of isolationism.”

Despite Biviano’s dedication to Clinton, she said she lives in a “divided household.”

“My husband and my older son, who is going to caucus this year for the first time, are both very big Bernie fans,” she said.

Around home, the family talks politics, but they stress how to “debate respectfully.”

“One of the things that we emphasize is that all of us are passionate,” she said. “We feel like it such an exciting time because we’re all genuinely excited.”

As for the rallies, she plans to go to both.

“We’ve already RSVPed for the Bernie Sanders event,” she said. “And Bill Clinton was president when I first got politically active … when I was in college. I think he was a great president.”

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