UPDATE: Romney wins Clark County straw poll

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor


Updated: March 3, 2012, 10:06 PM



The Columbian asked some GOP caucus attendees what they look for most in a candidate and which issue the Republican Party should focus on the most. Here’s what they had to say:

Bob Benesh, Battle Ground • Characteristic: Honesty and willingness “to say what he believes.” • Issue: Outreach. “The Democrats have a really good PR (public relations) system. The Republicans just take it for granted that everyone knows what it’s all about.” Caleb Blanton, Battle Ground • Characteristic: Integrity. • Issue: Foreign policy. Justin Brooke, Battle Ground • Characteristic: “Someone who doesn’t have integrity isn’t even an option.” • Issue: “For me, as a veteran, foreign policy is huge.” Leslie Brooke, Battle Ground • Characteristic: Consistency. • Issue: “Eliminating the debt. Quit spending money we don’t have.” Christopher Gross, Battle Ground • Characteristic: Integrity. • Issue: Fiscal responsibility. Barbara James, Hockinson • Characteristic: “Someone that’s really concerned about our rights, our liberties and our Constitution.” • Issue: The economy. Jimmy Kramer, Battle Ground • Characteristic: Consistency. • Issue: “Civil liberties. How we’re treated by the government as citizens.” Judd Lavender, Brush Prairie • Characteristic: Electability. • Issue: The economy. Sue Phillips, Battle Ground • Characteristic: Truthfulness. • Issue: Lining up with the nation’s past values, such as individual liberties and faith. “I believe our country was founded on Christian principles.” Ron Sargeant, Battle Ground • Characteristic: “Somebody who doesn’t keep changing their mind.” • Issue: The deficit.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the Clark County Republican precinct caucus straw poll taken Saturday morning. Ron Paul came in second, Rick Santorum placed third and Newt Gingrich finished last.

In the Clark County straw poll, Romney received 37 percent of the vote, Paul had 28.5 percent, Santorum got 22.5 percent, Gingrich received 10.1 percent, and 1.9 percent said they were undecided. The straw poll numbers reported Saturday were unofficial, but they aren’t expected to change much, Clark County Republican Party Chair Brandon Vick said.

About 4,300 voters participated in the Clark County straw poll — more than three times the nearly 1,400 who participated in the 2008 Clark County GOP straw poll.

The 10 caucus locations throughout Clark County drew many first-timers, partly because there still isn’t a definite GOP nominee in the race, and because all four candidates have been wooing voters in the Evergreen State, caucus organizers say. A win in Washington’s straw poll could give one of the presidential candidates a little extra oomph before the “Super Tuesday” primaries and caucuses taking place this week.

Honesty, integrity, civil liberties, foreign policy and the economy were common words buzzing around the Republican precinct caucus Saturday morning at Chief Umtuch Middle School in Battle Ground. More than 250 people packed the school’s commons to vote for their favorite presidential candidate in the nonbinding straw poll, suggest Republican Party platforms and elect delegates to the Clark County Republican Convention March 31 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.

Delegates will be picked at the county convention to go to the state convention, and delegates selected at the state convention will go to the national convention, where the Republican Party will make its presidential nomination official.

Gingrich, Romney and Santorum didn’t make stops in Southwest Washington before the precinct caucuses. Texas congressman Paul made two visits — one on the eve of the precinct caucuses — and Romney’s son, Josh Romney, campaigned for his dad in Vancouver last month.

During the state’s last presidential caucus in 2008, Paul appeared to have a strong base in Clark County when his highly organized supporters swamped the county’s Republican convention, winning 71 of 89 delegate seats to the state convention.

Judging from the stickers, buttons and signs at the Battle Ground precinct caucus, the crowd seemed split on whether Paul or Romney was the right person to challenge President Barack Obama.

Caucus newbie Ron Sargeant of Battle Ground said he supports Ron Paul and his effort to eliminate the Federal Reserve and reform the financial system. He showed up to the caucus because, “It’s the only way I could give my support for Ron Paul this primary season.”

The state suspended its 2012 primary to save money.

Across the room, another caucus first-timer, Judd Lavender of Brush Prairie, said Romney is the best choice because he’s electable and he has the business sense to tackle the country’s debt.

“He’s Mr. Fix-it,” Lavender said of Romney.

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, was also declared the statewide straw poll winner. Former House speaker Gingrich came in last.

Those rallying behind former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum were also present in Battle Ground to make their case.

“I like his moral values,” voter said Bob Benesh of Battle Ground of Santorum. “It looks like he’s been pretty steady in what he believes.”

Even though caucus attendees disagreed about a GOP candidate, voters seemed to agree that Obama should be a one-term president.

“I think our country’s in trouble,” said Harry Smith of Hockinson. “If you get (Obama) in there for four more years, you can kiss our country goodbye.”

‘Considerably more’

The caucuses in Clark County drew an estimated 4,500 voters, said Vick, the Clark County Republicans chairman. They usually bring in about 1,500.

“This is all about energizing the base, and there’s obviously a lot of energy out there,” said Mike Gaston, Clark County Republicans’ executive director, after the caucuses.

In some parts of the state, Republican voters were turned away because caucus rooms were filled to capacity. The Tri-City Herald reported Saturday afternoon that more than 1,000 voters were turned away from caucuses in Kennewick.

“Our rooms were incredibly packed, but we didn’t have to turn anybody away, thankfully,” Vick said of the caucuses in Clark County. In Camas, the fire marshal made the group find a larger space, Vick added.

In Battle Ground, caucus organizer Dominic Webber had to bring in a microphone and repeat his announcements a couple of times in order to be heard through the caucus commotion.

When compared to the 2010 caucus he helped organize, “we have considerably more people,” he said.

“For this many people in a confined space, I think it’s going really well,” Webber added. “I think everyone’s polite and cordial.”

Democratic precinct caucuses take place April 15.

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