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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

County Republicans caucus; no presidential straw poll

Sixteen precinct caucuses ring with hope for unified local party in 2016

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer, and
Andy Matarrese, Columbian environment and transportation reporter
Published: February 20, 2016, 6:11pm
5 Photos
Stephanie McClintock, center, talks with other members at the GOP precinct caucus at Prairie High School on Saturday. McClintock said she hopes to see local Republicans work together this year to uphold conservative principles.
Stephanie McClintock, center, talks with other members at the GOP precinct caucus at Prairie High School on Saturday. McClintock said she hopes to see local Republicans work together this year to uphold conservative principles. (Greg Wahl-Stephens for the Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark County Republicans didn’t coalesce behind a presidential candidate during Saturday’s precinct caucuses, but many expressed a hope 2016 will be the year they unite as a local party.

After the 16 caucuses in Clark County wrapped up, Clark County Republican Chairman Kenny Smith said the message was, “People are eager to work together.”

Unlike in previous years, there was no presidential straw poll. Instead, the state party will commit its delegates based on the outcome of the statewide May 24 presidential primary election. Caucus-goers views’ on Donald Trump ranged from his being too divisive to having the right business acumen for the job.

One clear theme, however, did emerge: Republicans expressed hope the local party could once again work cohesively.

A push in 2012 to elect anti-establishment Republicans to GOP leadership roles created a rift in the local GOP party.

“Unity is possible,” said Clark County Councilor Julie Olson. “It’s going to be a process. … It’s a matter of accepting we have similar desired outcomes, but we might be starting at different places.”

The caucus at Prairie High School kicked off with Christian Berrigan, who was key in the overthrow of the establishment GOP members, handing out pocket-sized Constitutions, and Vicki Kraft, who is a candidate for the state House of Representatives, leading the group in prayer.

The caucuses elected delegates to the county and legislative-district conventions. They also focused on honing the party’s platform and suggesting party resolutions.

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At one of the 17th Legislative District caucuses, several people got behind a resolution to oppose a Human Rights Commission rule allowing people to use restrooms based on their identified gender. Other resolution suggestions ranged from ending Common Core education standards, stop funds going to Planned Parenthood that could be used for abortions, universally ending immigration for a decade and disbanding the U.S. Department of Education.

Sitting at one table, Jim Nielsen was wearing a red hat that clarified his presidential allegiances.

“Make America great again. That’s what I want to see,” Nielsen said.

Republican Mary Benton, married to Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said she likes Donald Trump’s business background and enthusiasm but is also drawn Sen. Ted Cruz’s conservative credentials and policies. She noted the low turnout for the caucuses and said she hopes more people get involved.

“It’s such a critical time in our country,” Benton said.

At the caucus meeting at Ridgefield High School, Woodland’s Jeff Leuthold, a self-described born-again Christian and Rick Santorum supporter in the last go-round, said he would like a government that does less, that allows for people to grow and create on their own.

“I would like to see onerous regulation reined in; I want to live a self-determined life,” he said.

Leuthold isn’t sure who would best champion those principles in the White House.

“I think Don Trump is an interesting guy, but he’s amoral. Ben Carson is tremendously intelligent, but don’t know if he has the fire in his belly to get elected. I think Ted Cruz is a really great person, but maybe a little immature on the national stage — same with (Marco) Rubio,” Leuthold said. “Both of those guys are fighting that one, and I think they could get submarined by media attacks and the Democratic machine.”

Michele Uplinger of Ridgefield said she’s a moderate and that she’s not especially impressed with any candidate.

“I am not for Donald Trump. He has no experience in governing. He is a real estate developer who has a lot of ambition, an undeniable ego, but a tendency to bully when he wants to shut down discussion,” she said. “On the other extreme, John Kasich is a sitting governor, was in Congress. He’s not a perfect candidate, his views (espoused) on Fox News make me cringe, but he has not been a divisive person during the primary debates.”

Columbian Political Writer
Columbian environment and transportation reporter