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Ann Donnelly, Jan. 14: Let your voice be heard at caucuses

The Columbian
Published:

Voters concerned about our country’s political direction — and that number is growing — should plan to attend their party caucuses to be held in just a few weeks. In past years, Clark County has been ground zero for unpredictable caucuses and the most battle-scarred of us are marking our calendars for Caucus 2010.

In “caucus states” such as Washington, and, famously, Iowa, caucuses are the starting points in a process to select delegates and alternates to county and state party conventions. On Saturday, Feb. 13, in school libraries and other public venues around Clark County, both political parties will hold caucuses open to all registered voters, who with a smidgen of research can determine their voting precincts and assigned meeting places.

Setting aside several hours to attend your party caucus is time well spent if you plan on griping about election results next fall. Caucus results can influence which party is the more broad-based and unified in its support of the spectrum of its candidates running for election. The party splintered by caucus battles may suffer for years.

Republicans face unprecedented challenges to unity this year. The Tea Party movement has attracted many of its voters, as well as a swelling contingent of independents. Despite media attempts to cast it in extremist light, the Tea Party is now more popular with Americans than either party. This month, in an NBC/WSJ survey, the Tea Party won a 41 percent favorable rating, compared to 35 percent for Democrats, and just 28 percent for Republicans.

Adding 41 to 28 reveals a tidal wave of voters if Republicans can combine forces with Tea Party backers. In the current special election in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, such a winning combination may be in the works. Teapartyexpress.org is calling on its passionate national following to support Republican candidate Scott Brown. Hard-hitting Tea Party television ads are feeding Brown’s surge in the polls. If Brown, an admitted long shot, defeats Obamacare supporter Martha Coakley, the GOP-plus-Tea Party alliance will serve as a model for GOP campaigns in 2010, including our own 3rd Congressional House seat.

Unpredictable events

But first, party business takes precedence. Caucuses are notoriously unpredictable kick-off events in big election years. In March 2008, Clark County was at the epicenter of one such brouhaha. Fierce supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul, many of them first-timers in politics, swamped GOP caucuses with the aim of excluding supporters of more popular candidates Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and John McCain from the rolls of elected convention delegates. At one caucus in the Vancouver Heights, this columnist and Vancouver realty icon Wally Hornberger, both longtime GOP precinct committee officers assigned to co-chair the event, attempted to maintain order with minimal success. Similar scenes in which caucuses elected 50 percent or more Ron Paul supporters played out around Vancouver, in Spokane and elsewhere in the state, skewing the attendance at the state GOP convention strongly toward Ron Paul, a candidate with minimal state or national support.

Quick-thinking and experienced heads eventually prevailed at the state convention. In Clark County, under the cool-headed leadership of County Chair Ryan Hart, the GOP grass-roots organization eventually righted itself, achieving by the end of the year a record level of broad-based participation by precinct committee officers.

Meanwhile, at the 2008 Democratic caucuses, I’m told that raucous Obama supporters caused similar havoc for Hillary Clinton supporters, thus eventually enabling a far-left national movement led by a largely unknown candidate with an enticing slogan to defeat a more centrist, experienced candidate. It will be interesting to see if Clark County Democrats achieve a mid-course correction in their caucuses this year.

Caucuses are unfettered democracy with all of the possible pitfalls of extremism and foolishness. So, on Feb. 13, attend your caucus and “be the party.”

Ann Donnelly, a Vancouver businesswoman, is a former chair of the Clark County Republican Party. E-mail: adonnelly7@comcast.net.

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