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Patience and excitement on display during local caucuses
MARYSVILLE What were going to do is try and cancel each other out without coming to blows, quipped Gene Marckx, who like hundreds of others crammed into the Marysville School District Service Center for one of several local party caucuses held Feb. 9.
Marckx was backing Illinois Sen. Barack Obama but support for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was evident as well.
For Marckx, this wasnt his first caucus experience. But when he showed up at a Democratic get-together back in 2004, he didnt have a lot of company. Including himself, Marckx said the total attendance from his precinct amounted to only four people.
That certainly wasnt the case this time around.
Its an important election, said Robert Deebach, who, along with wife Megan, was attending his first caucus. Im thinking were going to have more war or less war depending on how this all turns out.
Ive been ready for a different president since 1999, said Catherine Naiad, explaining why she was willing to wait hours just to get in the doors of the caucus. And I firmly believe if Im not part of the solution, Im part of the problem.
Im 61 years old and this is the first time Ive ever participated in a caucus, said Barry Knott, who ended up being elected a delegate for Clinton. This just seemed to be the year to get involved.
Hosting the caucuses for several precincts inside and outside Marysville, the District Service Center was crammed well beyond capacity. Final attendance figures werent readily available. But for some time before and after the scheduled 1:30 p.m. caucus start time, the line of voters snaked out the centers door, through the parking lot and all the way to street.
A vice-chair of the Snohomish County Democratic Party, Bill Phillips, was a key organizer of the caucuses at the school administration building. He said the average attendance at the partys last caucuses averaged 19 people per precinct.
I dont where were at, but were certainly well past that, he said Saturday. Sitting at a table helping to register voters, Phillips repeatedly noted the party planned their caucus sessions last summer.
We had no way of knowing how many people were going to be interested, he said, adding a belief that the closeness of the Super Tuesday vote among the Democratic candidates undoubtedly fueled interest in Washingtons caucuses.
Eventually, citing what he said was a well publicized starting time, Phillips began turning people away, hoping to get actual caucuses underway by about 3 p.m. By then, dozens upon dozens of visitors had cast their vote for a candidate and gone home. Phillips assured those who left that their ballots would count as caucus votes.
Washingtons Democrats also plan a primary Feb. 19, but the party chooses all their delegates through the caucuses. A few voters admitted they werent totally clear about how the process works.
I dont have a good grasp, I have a grasp, said Allison Barnes, in talking about the overall caucus workings. Many voters reported doing research on the Web, but still werent positive they had all the right answers. Like many others, Megan Deebach believes Washingtons Democrats might want to look at splitting delegate selection between the primary and the caucuses.
For one thing, Deebach said its difficult for handicapped or elderly voters to attend the caucuses.
While the conflict in Iraq received plenty of attention among caucus goers, so did other issues as well as the overall characteristics of the two candidates. No matter whom they were backing, the Democrats in attendance all seemed to have some opinion on what might be described as the Obama charisma factor.
This is like back with Bobby Kennedy, thats the feeling, said Brian Wendall, who echoed the comments of several others.
Obama had earned the conditional support of one the caucuss youngest visitors, Drew Barnes, 11, who came with mom Allison Barnes.
When I read what he (Obama) said, he just seemed like a really good guy, Drew said.
Mom said she brought Drew along just to give him a taste of democracy in action.
On the Clinton side, most supporters talked about their candidates experience.
Shes a strong person and she doesnt let anybody push her around, said Barbara Gottfried.
Despite complaints about lines and disorganization, Phillips said he couldnt help but be happy with Saturdays turnout.
To me its great, he told the crowd, to a big round of applause. It means there a lot of people who want to get rid of George W. Bush and the Republicans.