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Caucus fever: Democrats unite for a record turnout

Kurt Peppard, shown with daughter Khayle, chats with Betty Liukkonen before the Democratic caucus began Feb. 9 at Lakota Middle School. Peppard supported Barack Obama while Liukkonen supported Hillary Clinton. - Andy Hobbs/The Mirror
Kurt Peppard, shown with daughter Khayle, chats with Betty Liukkonen before the Democratic caucus began Feb. 9 at Lakota Middle School. Peppard supported Barack Obama while Liukkonen supported Hillary Clinton.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/The Mirror

By AILEEN CHARLESTON, The Mirror

Voters of all ages filled every table and corner in the Lakota Middle School cafeteria on Feb. 9 to make their voices heard, choose a candidate and, as Democrats called it, bring back the White House.

For the District 30 Democratic presidential caucuses, cars filled every space of Lakota’s main parking lot on Saturday afternoon, including the grass and sidewalks. Inside the packed cafeteria, there were not enough tables to accommodate nearly 300 people who attended. Some of them cast their votes in the hallway and the outside patio.

“I’m sorry there is not enough space, but there was no way of us knowing how many people were going to show up today,” said Larry Jackson, 30th District Democrats chairman.

“During the 2004 elections, there were a total of 600 people who showed up for the whole city,” Jackson said at the event. “This year we have a record turnout, and from my understanding it’s happening all over the state.”

Most of the people present were participating at their first caucus, and appeared to be somewhat lost at the beginning of the event.

Nonetheless, as the ballots circulated and each table got organized, opinions spouted from every table. The cafeteria’s background noise was filled with claps and a mix of voices coming from every direction, where the names Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton captured every conversation.

“It’s great that people are getting involved,” said Bill Cole, ex-legislative 30th District Democrats chairman, who was there to support Obama.

“Obama will be the most effective when running against Republicans,” Cole said.

Another Obama supporter, John Morrow, said he was proud to have a candidate that looked like him and inspired him to get involved.

“I don’t see him as being part of the establishment. He is looking at the big picture,” Morrow said.

On the other hand, Clinton’s supporters, although seemingly fewer in number, stood behind their candidate until the end.

“I’m participating because it’s very important for the future of our country, and to support Hillary Clinton,” Lazaro Martinez said. “I think the economy was very stable when the Clintons were in office and I really agree with Hillary’s immigration policies. That’s why I’m supporting her.”

“It’s time for a woman to be president,” participant Michelle Layacan said.

Ilahee Middle School served as another of the four caucus locations in Federal Way for Democrats. More than 150 showed up, causing organizers to set up extra chairs, according to representative Art Flunarty.

At the end, people were ready to head home and wait for the final decision on the six o’clock news. In the meantime, some showed satisfaction with the events’ overall turnout, while others simply had a lot to say about the organization in general.

Diana Reddeer complained that there were too many people at each table, and many were not aware of what was happening. She said the event would have benefited from more people floating around and helping with directions.

Another participant, Ruth Rogers, said she loved that everybody listened to one another, and she enjoyed the interaction among complete strangers.

Cicely Smith, who participated at the Foundation House caucus, disagreed with the caucus system in general. She would have preferred the standard method of casting a vote.

Foundation House resident Margaret Cox, 96, was amazed at the turnout of more than 70 people at this location.

“It was certainly exciting to see the young people,” Cox said.

For more than a couple of hours, Democrats from every reign in Federal Way got to decide who to choose as the face of their party — and the possible new face of the country. In the end, Obama won the state by almost a 2 to 1 margin.

“It was fun seeing everybody trying to convince each other of who to vote for, but at the end, everybody agreed that no matter who won, they would vote Democrat,” caucus participant Lynda Huffman said.

Contact Aileen Charleston: acharleston@fedwaymirror.com

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Check it out:

30th District Democrats: Group meets at 7 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month at the Federal Way Senior Center, 4016 S. 352nd St. To learn more, call (253) 661-2287 or e-mail chair@30thdemocrats.com. Also visit www.30thdemocrats.com/.

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HOW A CAUCUS WORKS:

Residents from each precinct gather at their respective tables at a district caucus location. Residents discuss their preferences on candidates.

The overall goal is for each precinct’s participants to pick two or more delegates to vote on behalf of the group at the District 30 convention. The caucus allows participants to sway fellow precinct voters to support their candidate. Voters can also remain uncommitted.

At the district convention, the number of delegates is narrowed down. The process continues at the county and state levels. In the end, those delegates participate in the national nomination process.

In 2008, all Washington state delegates on the Democrat side will be determined at the caucus; the Feb. 19 primary vote will not yield any Democratic delegates. On the Republican side, half of the delegates were chosen during the caucuses, and the other half will be decided at the Feb. 19 primary election. The primary will also cost the state about $10 million.

To learn more, visit http://www.washingtonvoter.org/default.asp?id=199/.

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