Today's Republican presidential caucus was an open caucus, so I trotted my Independent opinions down there with my mom, ready to vote for Ron Paul. Washington is considered "in play" for Ron Paul -- you know, crazy liberal West coasters we are! -- but I actually live in the more conservative part of the state. Heading over today, I was fairly certain that Mitt Romney would be the preferred candidate by people voting from our county. His business background is sure to be a draw, and there is quite a large Mormon population here so that isn't a distraction. And while people here are fiscally conservative, they might find Rick Santorum too "Christian".
We arrived just after 8:30am to check in for the 10am caucus. The published information said doors opened at 8:30am. In the paper this morning, the predicted voter turnout statewide was expected to be around 60,000 people, and I heard a county guy saying that they expected about 3000 people at our county caucus location here.
The entire county caucused at the convention center. I think they would probably re-think that plan after today.
So first, we waited in line...
My mom said, "Look around. These are your peers." Apparently my peers are middle aged white people who like to drink Starbucks. I noticed quite a few Ron Paul related t-shirts and hats. Not much in the way of merchandise for other candidates. But there were a lot of Romney stickers. Romney definitely had the most "ground game", with Paul a close second. Gingrich and Santorum did not have anyone there handing out stickers, buttons or pamphlets, as far as I saw.
We stood in line for about a half an hour. Some kind of official came down the line apologizing for the wait. He said there were already 4000 people inside at that point. (If he was correct about that, I would guess that there were at least 6000 people there today.) Behind us, the line snacked up and down through the convention center lobby about 5 times.
A random guy walked through with "Ron Paul donuts", meaning he was giving free donuts to people wearing Ron Paul gear. Unfortunately, I hadn't found the Ron Paul sticker man yet, so I missed out on a really yummy looking donut.
When we got to the check in area, they had run out of the little badges for each precinct, so instead they wrote on our arms. I was in precinct 2641. Want some blurry proof?
That was written with a Sharpie, so I will probably be able to prove it all week if I want to.
There were 2 large convention rooms in use for the caucus. And no obvious rationale about how the precincts were organized within those rooms. So I headed into the large room that included my number. Thankfully, I saw a lady standing at the very first table with my precinct number!
Part of our precinct, with one of our members holding up the precinct number.
We had one small table for our precinct and I got the 8th and last chair. It quickly became apparent that my Ron Paul sticker and I were in the minority. In fact, the whole table pretty much said (in a joking, not threatening, manner) that the precinct is for Romney, but I could sit with them if I wanted. See the ladies in the picture above? All of them knew each other. Walking partners. And their husbands.
A few more people came along to our precinct/table. I thought everyone was very cordial in the way that I kind of expected. They boasted about their candidate and then asked why the other person liked someone else. The Romney people all talked about how the number one goal for the Republicans ought to be defeating Barack Obama and Romney is "the man to do the job". (Why? It's a mystery!) The Santorum people liked that he is a "true conservative". I noticed that there weren't a lot of details. It was like people were supporting caracatures of the candidates, and they may or may not have known many details about the people they wanted to vote for.
The room got more and more crowded. I was thankful we were near the door, because I might have had a crowd induced freak out if I were in the middle.
The caucus was supposed to start at 10am and around that time we started hearing that the doors were going to be closed at that point with no one else let in. Even the people who had been in line since before 10am. There was some booing. This was posted on our local newspaper's facebook page earlier today:
I love the way the news is stating that...probably got this wording from the unorganized republican party in charge of the caucus "had to be turned away" How about "were denied their constitutional right to vote"? I think that wording fits better. I have voted in every primary and general election for as long as I can remember. But the governor took away the primary and gave us the caucus. So my husband and I got up early on a Saturday and went and stood in line to have our chance to vote. I have a migraine, so standing in noisy room with 6000+ people was not my idea of fun, but I take my civic duty seriously. After being in ling for quite some time (and the line snaked the full length of the lobby of the 3 rivers conv cntr 5 times) we were at the back of one of the loops when they announced that those with voter registration cards could come to the front. Mayhem broke out and the lines were history....they all melded into a mess and we ended up at the back of it. We patiently moved slowly forward with a crowd about 20+ people wide. When we got near the front...they announced if you weren't already validated you would not be able to particpate in the caucus or in the voting process!!! By this time I look back and there are still hundreds of people behind us!!! Seriously!!! I will be very busy tomorrow making calls to all of the candidates, the county, the governor, the republican party, our representatives..etc....
After some lengthy instructions on how to vote in a straw poll and elect delegates. We finally got to the real action. Which lasted all of 15 minutes.
We voted in the straw poll. Our precinct ended up with 15 people in attendance. 7 for Romney, 7 for Santorum, 1 for Paul. And then we were to vote for county delegates.
As a dutiful Ron Paul supporter, I know that as the only Paul member of our precinct, I am almost FORCED to nominate myself as a county delegate. Even though it costs $50 and is on my mom's birthday. There are 5 of us nominated for 3 spots. 7 of those fools actually voted for me!! I don't think they understand the role of delegates -- that by voting for me, they are sending a Paul delegate to the county level. I think they just thought I seem like a nice, young, naive and optimistic girl. Fortunately and unfortunately, I was 1 vote short of being elected as a delegate.
But now you can say you know a county delegate ALTERNATE. Ta-da!
After straw polling and picking our delegates (2 Romney, 1 Santorum), we were dismissed. I went and found my mom, who was causing all sorts of problems in her precinct. I wouldn't expect anything less!
The overwhelming mood of the caucus was... crowded. It was ridiculously crowded. And too loud to hear the instructions. I know the local Republican people in charge of planning to caucus were very overwhelmed. One woman took the microphone to make an announcement about something else and essentially said, "This is our first time doing this and I am very sorry" and then starting crying. I felt bad for her.
So, that was how I spent my morning today! I have to say that I am more interested than ever in how the caucus process works in states like Iowa where it is tradition and a well oiled machine. And if other caucus states are more like that, or more like us?