Local Republicans gather for caucuses amid strong turnout
March 3, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 3:15 p.m. March 3, 2012
Republicans clustered at community halls and elementary schools in Issaquah and nearby communities Saturday, as a long presidential nominating contest offered local caucusgoers a chance to shape the national contest.
Issaquah caucusgoers headed to Discovery Elementary and Issaquah Valley Elementary schools, and Colin Hall at Providence Point, to support the GOP candidates vying to face President Barack Obama in November.
Support in the Washington caucuses’ nonbinding straw poll could boost candidates on Super Tuesday, a 10-state contest and a make-or-break test for candidates.
State GOP leaders expected about 60,000 caucusgoers statewide due to intense interest in the race and the Legislature’s decision to cancel the presidential primary amid cost concerns.
Crowds descended on caucus sites at about 10 a.m. and the hands-on process ended at about noon. The state party organization does not expect to release results from the nonbinding straw poll until late Saturday afternoon.
In addition to the straw poll, caucusgoers elected delegates to the 5th Legislative District GOP convention. (The convention is scheduled for March 31 in Maple Valley.)
Organizers at Discovery Elementary set up additional folding tables and chairs as more than 400 caucusgoers — a standing-room-only crowd — filed into the cafeteria. Some participants gathered at tables set up in poster-lined hallways and the gymnasium.
“Our only problem is that there are too many people that care about democracy this morning,” organizer David Irons, a former candidate for King County executive, said to participants before the caucuses opened.
(The crowd included ex-state senator and Sammamish resident Dino Rossi, a former GOP candidate for governor and U.S. Senate.)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney received strong support from caucusgoers gathered at the local elementary schools. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also mobilized supporters for the local caucuses. (The cafeteria at Discovery sported “Ron Paul 2012″ balloons and signs.)
Romney’s moderate politics appealed to caucusgoers from the Eastside — a suburban electorate more apt to base decisions on fiscal matters rather than social issues.
“I think that Washington in general is a more moderate part of the country, or even liberal, depending on where you’re at,” Issaquah resident and Romney supporter Mark Simon said after the caucuses at Issaquah Valley Elementary. “In the Eastside suburbs, you have a lot of the fiscal conservatives who definitely care about the economy and pocketbook issues, and are less focused, I feel, on social issues. Not that they don’t care about them, I just don’t think it’s their primary thought process.”
Issaquah resident Brandon Slater, another Romney supporter, and other caucusgoers spent about 30 minutes discussing candidates at Discovery Elementary before the precinct agreed to support Romney.
“Of all the candidates, he’s in a league of his own as far as fixing fiscal problems,” Slater said.
Romney also earned endorsements from Republican elected leaders on the Eastside, including the Issaquah representative on the King County Council, Kathy Lambert, local state Sen. Steve Litzow and local state Rep. Jay Rodne before the caucuses. U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, the Issaquah representative in Congress, endorsed Romney days before the caucuses.
Rossi is another Romney supporter.
Participants in the Issaquah-area caucuses said most participants arrived prepared to discuss a chosen candidate.
“There was almost no discussion,” Issaquah political consultant Terry LaBrue said as the caucuses concluded at Discovery Elementary and organizers collected results in manila envelopes. “They came with their minds up — and everybody was polite, of course. It was that real grassroots conversation of, ‘This is what I think, this is who I want to support and this is why.’ The overwhelming reason was that they think Romney has the best chance to beat Obama in the fall.”
LaBrue, precinct committee officer for the Brookshire area, said the 11 participants from the precinct supported Romney in a landslide.
“Turnout was terrific, and the people are really fired up about this,” LaBrue said. “They really want a change in government.”
Though the top candidate can claim victory in Washington based on the nonbinding straw poll, the delegate elections from the precinct caucuses matter more in the long run. Republicans narrow the delegates elected at the precinct level at legislative district and county conventions. The state GOP determines Washington’s 43 representatives to the Republican National Convention at the state convention in late May and early June.
Still, the long nomination battle raised interest among local Republicans. (In 2008, U.S. Sen. John McCain emerged as the presumptive Republican nominee long before the Evergreen State caucuses.)
“We have a chance to have a say more than usual this year,” Slater said.