Caucuses expected to draw crowds locally

GOP official: Be sure to report to proper precinct

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Caucus location map

For an interactive map of caucus precincts and locations in Clark County go to our 2012 Republican caucus map.

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GOP caucus locations

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Make sure you go to the right caucus location on Saturday.

That’s the most important advice Clark County Republicans’ Executive Director Mike Gaston has for the high volume of first-timers expected at Saturday morning’s GOP precinct caucuses. Going to the right location, which is based on the precinct each voter lives in, means voters can participate in all parts of the caucus, including the straw poll.

Gaston expects up to 3,000 voters to show up to one of 10 different caucus locations across the county. Typically, the Clark County precinct caucuses draw about 1,500 voters, he said.

Statewide, Republicans are expecting about 50,000 to participate in their precinct caucuses. The caucuses allow voters to weigh in on which candidate should win the nomination to run against President Barack Obama and it’s the only

chance the state’s Republican voters will have to influence the nomination process now that Washington suspended its 2012 primary to save money.

All politically minded eyes are on Washington’s Republican precinct caucuses because doing well in Washington could give momentum to candidates as they head into the “Super Tuesday” primaries and caucuses three days later, on March 6. It’s hard to predict what Washington voters will do, political pundits say, because a larger than average number of Washingtonians describe themselves as politically independent.

For the first time Gaston can recall, “we’ve had national candidates in here prior to the presidential primary or caucuses, and they’ve got a lot of press and generated a lot of energy at the grass-roots level.”

Gaston has been involved with the Clark County Republicans for about 20 years.

Attendance also might be high because “the Republican nomination process is still wide open,” Gaston said. “There’s a likelihood, but no certainty, in terms of the presumptive nominee.”

Republican candidates running for president include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (the presumptive nominee), former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Lately, Gaston said he’s received several calls from curious voters who have never attended a caucus. He’s asked: “What is this all about, and how does it happen?” Gaston said. “I tell people it’s very logical, but it’s a bit convoluted.”

At the caucus, participants will work in precinct groups to choose delegates based on which candidate they prefer. Those delegates will go on to the Republican’s Clark County convention, where delegates will be chosen to go to the state convention. At the state convention, delegates will be picked to go to the national convention. A candidate must receive 1,144 delegate votes at the Republican national convention to win the nomination.

“It’s a winnowing process,” Gaston said.

What to expect

Registration for the caucuses begins at 9 a.m. and closes at 10:30 a.m. Upon registration, voters are asked to participate in a nonbinding straw poll. Results of the straw poll are released later in the day.

Each caucus will hold a general meeting at 10 a.m. that opens with a prayer. The general meeting will explain how the caucus works and allow voters to talk about hot-button topics.

Individual precinct caucuses begin after 10:30 a.m. Voters meet in their precinct group to declare which candidate they prefer, then they elect delegates to go to the Clark County Convention. The delegates chosen are allowed to change their mind about the candidates at the county convention.

Only registered voters can participate in the caucus, and voters must be willing to declare that they are Republicans and promise not to participate in the upcoming Democratic caucuses.

Democratic precinct caucuses

Washington state Democrats are already encouraging voters to attend Democratic presidential caucuses, which take place throughout the state at 1 p.m. April 15.

“President (Barack) Obama may not be facing opposition, but we still need you to caucus,” state party Executive Director Jaxon Ravens said in a news release. “We need to show that, while the other side is fighting over the nomination, our support for President Obama is strong.”

In 2008, the Washington state Democrats hosted the largest precinct caucuses in U.S. history, Ravens said. In those caucuses, an estimated 244,000 showed up statewide to decide between Obama and current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“This is an important year for both political persuasions,” Gaston said,” and I think you’ll probably see a lot of energy down the road at the Democratic caucuses, even though they don’t have much to caucus about.”

A list of the precincts that correspond with each Republican caucus location was printed in Monday’s edition of The Columbian.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics