News

Political caucuses draw crowds for both parties

By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

The Plateau bustled with politics Saturday as people gathered in record numbers at caucuses to chose delegates for Democrat and Republican presidential candidates.

Precinct officers from both parties said the number of people turning out at the various meetings were double and triple what had been seen in past years.

The Democratic caucus at Enumclaw High School had nearly 400 people sign in to vote.

“I'd never seen anything like this,” said Chris Hurst, a 31st District member of the state House of Representatives. “I've been participating in caucuses since I was 18, but this time the passion was extraordinary. People want to see this country restored. The enthusiasm of the people was invigorating.”

Deryl McCarty, chairman of the Pierce County Republican Party, said their caucuses drew record numbers on the Plateau and across the county.

“It was exciting,” McCarty said. “People were lined up down the street at some of the sites. It was fun. The 31st had huge turnouts that we really didn't expect.”

A wide range of people gathered for the Democratic caucus at the Bonney Lake High School commons. High school students, senior citizens and folks with families sat in circles and discussed the pros and cons of each candidate.

Harshad Shah, who was supporting Hillary Clinton, was attending for the first time.

“I enjoyed it,” Shah said. “But I am concerned about (Barack) Obama's experience.”

Shah's wife Bharati said she was supporting Obama.

“I'm for Obama and this was a wonderful experience,” she said. “We talk about this at the dinner table. I think I might convince him (Harshad).”

Casey Knowles, a 17-year-old Bonney Lake High student, worked as a precinct captain at the caucus and said she attended the Obama rally Friday at Key Arena in Seattle

“It was an incredible experience,” Knowles said. “I got to shake his hand and I was really excited.”

Cheri Bichsel said she went to Hillary Clinton's rally at the University of Puget Sound Memorial Fieldhouse Friday.

“Before yesterday I was either-or,” Bichsel said. “But when I went to see Hillary she was mesmerizing.”

The appearance prior to the caucus by Clinton, Obama, Republican contenders Sen. John McCain and Gov. Mike Huckabee's wife, Janet, raised the excitement of Saturday as each candidate battled for delegates.

As of Monday morning, Obama led Clinton 68 percent to 31 percent. McCain was leading Huckabee 26 percent to 24 percent. Ron Paul had 21 percent and Mitt Romney 16 percent.

For the Republicans 13 percent were uncommitted; that figure was 1 percent for the Democrats.

Huckabee made it known he was challenging the results in the state. The candidate claimed Republican party officials had not counted all the votes.

The purpose of the caucus was for each precinct to choose delegates representing the candidates. The delegates for each party will move through a complex series of district, county and state meetings. Eventually, 97 delegates from the Democrats and 40 from the Republicans will make the trip to the National Convention. For the Republicans the convention is set for September in Minneapolis, Minn. and August in Denver, Colo. for the Democrats.

For the Democrats, all the delegates are selected through the caucus process. The Republicans will choose half using the caucus system and half through the Feb. 19 primary election.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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