Obama, McCain Win Washington Caucuses
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama crushed New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in Saturday's Washington state Democratic presidential caucuses, while Arizona Sen. John McCain edged former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in Republican caucusing.
Obama won easily all across the state, riding the momentum of a massive Seattle rally and a last-minute endorsement from Gov. Chris Gregoire. With more than 67 percent of precinct delegates, he figures to receive 52 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, while Clinton would get 26.
The Washington State Democrats estimated turnout may have been more than twice the 100,000 people who caucused in 2004. At Seattle Central Community College in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, one of the most liberal areas of the state, more than a thousand Democrats spilled out into the halls and took over more rooms than the party had reserved, forcing caucus organizers to appeal for money to pay the higher rent.
Luis Santi, a 24-year-old art director at Microsoft Corp., said he made up his mind to support Obama after hearing him speak at the Seattle rally on Friday.
"I felt a really good vibe and energy to it. Right now, you're picking a candidate based on character and integrity. The policies come later," Santi said. Obama was the overwhelming favorite at the Capitol Hill caucus site.
On the Republican side, turnout was lighter. Even in heavily Republican Lewis County, the Republican caucuses at W.F. West High School in Chehalis drew only about 15 people, compared to more than 160 at a Democratic caucus elsewhere in the school.
"McCain is a bit wishy-washy. I'm not sure where he stands from day-to-day," said Maria Easley, a 40-year-old financial analyst from Chehalis, who was reluctantly supporting McCain. "But I don't think that Huckabee can go the distance."
Paul, whose libertarian views and anti-war stance have drawn a strong following in Washington, was running a strong third.
"People are really, really ready to have someone who is a serious conservative, a real conservative," said Maureen Moore, state coordinator for Paul's campaign. "And that's who Ron Paul is."
In rural Toppenish in the Yakima Valley, where many farm workers lack health insurance, Juan Ozuna, an accountant for a radio station, supported Clinton because of her long support for health-care reform.
"Her message on universal health care, in this valley, is something we need," said Ozuna, 52. "We need health care for everyone, not just those who can afford it." However, Obama was an easy winner in the Toppenish caucuses as well. Of the 19 people who caucused from the tiny town of Buena, 18 supported Obama.
In suburban Renton, Democrats wrangled over Clinton's experience versus Obama's message of change.
"I do believe Obama's leadership style is critical for the future of our country," said Andrew Lofton, 57, a manager with the Seattle Housing Authority who argued that Obama would be more collaborative than Clinton. "It's a matter of style not gender."
Former Renton Mayor Kathy Keolker, 53, bristled at a suggestion that Clinton's time as first lady didn't count as experience.
"Experience is what it's all about, having a plan and articulating how you're going to get there," Keolker said. "Obama is a wonderful speaker, very charismatic, but what's his plan?"
In Chehalis, Nelda Thornton said she had been leaning toward Clinton but ultimately backed Obama because of recent hardball campaign tactics from former President Bill Clinton.
"I got tired of him. He had a real negative effect for me," Thornton said. "He made me realize that I'm tired of the Clintons, I'm tired of the Bushes, and I'm ready to move forward."
In one Chehalis precinct, three Clinton supporters and three Obama supporters all refused to yield, forcing a coin-flip to decide which candidate got the precinct's lone delegate.
Kay Braden of Chehalis, a fervent Clinton supporter, called heads for Hillary, but it came up tails for Obama, who was a big winner at the site.
"It's heartbreaking. I still think she's the best candidate," Braden said as she put her head down on the table.
Democrats will allocate all 78 of their elected national delegates through the caucuses, and Republicans will use results to allot about half of their 37 elected delegates.
The state also has a presidential primary on Feb. 19. Republicans will use the results to elect half of their national delegates, but Democrats view the primary as a nonbinding popularity contest.
Delegates were also at stake Saturday in the Louisiana primary, Democratic caucuses in Nebraska