Republicans gather for grassroots caucuses

March 6, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Mitt Romney emerges as top choice among local participants

Republicans clustered at community halls and elementary schools in Issaquah and nearby communities March 3, as a long presidential nominating contest offered local caucusgoers a chance to shape the national contest.

Issaquah caucusgoers headed to Discovery and Issaquah Valley elementary schools, and Colin Hall at Providence Point, to support the GOP candidates vying to face President Barack Obama in November.

Mitt Romney trounced the other candidates in the 5th Legislative District and King County, and topped the straw poll statewide. Observers said support in the Washington caucuses’ nonbinding straw poll could boost the former Massachusetts governor on Super Tuesday, a 10-state contest March 6 and a make-or-break test for candidates.

By the numbers

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney received a critical boost in the 5th Legislative District and King County — and topped the state GOP caucuses’ straw poll. In the district overall, organizers said 1,589 caucusgoers participated in the straw poll. (The district includes most Issaquah neighborhoods.)

5th Legislative District

Mitt Romney

• 843 votes

• 53 percent

Ron Paul

• 263 votes

• 17 percent

Rick Santorum

• 246 votes

• 15 percent

Newt Gingrich

• 195 votes

• 12 percent

Others

• 42 votes

• 3 percent

Statewide

Mitt Romney

• 19,111 votes

• 37.65 percent

Ron Paul

• 12,594 votes

• 24.81 percent

Rick Santorum

• 12,089 votes

• 23.81 percent

Newt Gingrich

• 5,221 votes

• 10.28 percent

Undecided/others

• 1,749 votes

• 3.44 percent

Romney received strong support from caucusgoers gathered at the local elementary schools. Though U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also mobilized supporters for local caucuses, Romney emerged as the frontrunner.

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.”

State Republican 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. The record turnout in the state GOP contest included 50,764 straw poll participants.

Crowds descended on caucus sites at about 10 a.m. and the hands-on process ended at about noon. The cafeteria at Discovery Elementary sported “Ron Paul 2012” balloons and signs as caucusgoers sat down at the child-sized seats to discuss the candidates.

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.)

‘A real grassroots conversation’

Organizers at Discovery 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.)

Issaquah resident Brandon Slater, another Romney supporter, and other caucusgoers spent about 30 minutes discussing candidates at Discovery 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.

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 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 on the Sammamish Plateau near Klahanie, 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.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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