CAMAS — As Democrats filed into Liberty Middle School on Saturday morning for their presidential caucus here, Hillary Clinton campaign organizer Mark Martin cheerfully said that he expected his candidate to “get trounced.”
His prediction came true. Bernie Sanders handily won the vast majority of delegates in Clark County and across Washington on Saturday. He received 78.46 percent of the vote in Clark County and 72.58 percent statewide with 95 percent of precincts reporting. Clinton won 21.39 percent of the vote in Clark County and 27.24 percent statewide.
Each candidate will receive a proportional number of delegates to continue a series of party events culminating in the state convention in June and the national convention in July.
Huge crowds turned out and it was standing room only at two sites The Columbian visited — Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver and Liberty Middle School in Camas. Some caucusers in some places just wouldn’t fit and had to get their business done outside — on a morning that was sunny and mild.
Clark County Democratic Chair Richard Rogers said total attendance at Saturday’s local precinct caucuses was about 11,000, including observers.
State Democratic Party spokesman Jamal Raad said turnout across the state was huge.
“Some caucuses … they had to meet outside; they were so packed, they were searching for bigger locations,” Raad said.
Rebel with a cause
After voters at Liberty Middle School gathered around precinct tables and checked their preferred candidates on forms, the initial tallies were lopsided — about three-quarters to one-quarter — in favor of Bernie Sanders. Few voters changed their minds after some passionate speechmaking by their neighbors.
Sanders organizer James Donohue noted that Washington Democrats are passionate for Bernie — but he also acknowledged that Clinton is already far ahead in the national delegate count. With a big Washington success for Sanders, he said, it’s hard to say what will happen in the end.
Sanders was clearly the popular choice with most. Michael Savage, who said he is a disabled combat veteran and a political independent, said Sanders is “the only candidate who cares about everyone.” Savage said he wishes there were a third party to vote for. Meanwhile, he said, he appreciated a sign he saw that suggested Jesus Christ would vote for Bernie.
“Similar platforms,” he said.
A union carpenter who spoke in favor of Hillary Clinton’s experience and determination — he called her a “powerhouse” — nevertheless acknowledged that Sanders’ candidacy has pulled Clinton to the left. That’s a good thing, he said.
Shannon Wells-Moran, 17, could barely contain his excitement about Sanders — and about the fact that he’ll be 18 years old, legal voting age, before Election Day in November. “I want to rebel against my parents and go for Bernie,” he said.
How did his dad, Clinton supporter Seth Moran, feel about that? “It’s cool,” he smiled.
Richard Rogers, chair of the Clark County Democrats, had a huge job welcoming and signing in each and every voter at Liberty. He said something like 150 Democrats had been expected at the school; the head count was well over 400 and the room was standing room only when things officially got going at 10:30 a.m.
Angela Tribulato of Camas was one of the few who showed up determined but undecided. “The only thing I know is, I’m not for Trump,” she said before the caucus officially began. Her parents were political, she said, and she still has a beloved George McGovern T-shirt from the campaign of 1972, which her mother coordinated in the San Fernando Valley of California.
Tribulato fell into conversation with Emilia Brasier — who is strongly for Sanders because of his passion for universal health care and his commitment to justice for Palestinians in the Middle East. That’s despite the fact that Sanders is Jewish, Brasier pointed out.
Tribulato was convinced. As things were winding down an hour later, she told The Columbian she now supports Sanders — mostly because of his support for free community college and because it’s just hard to resist the Sanders “groundswell,” she said.
But she’s worried about one thing: Getting trounced. Sanders “could be another McGovern,” she said.
At Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, Matt Williams wanted to be persuaded: Should he cast his vote for Sanders or Clinton?
“I love Bernie’s ideas,” Williams said. “But I’m worried about his ability to reach across the aisle.”
He was leaning toward Clinton, but not ready to decide yet.
His neighbors, the large majority of them Sanders supporters, tried to convince him. Florence Ferguson stood on a chair to make sure Williams heard her speak.
Clinton, she said, is for “big pharma, Monsanto and Wall Street. That’s who she represents.”
Aaron Jones, who is 32, said Sanders is inspiring his generation, which means more millennials will be voting in the future — translating into more Democratic votes during midterm elections.
Andrew McMillan, 29, agreed and gave an impassioned plea for Sanders, adding, “Hillary didn’t earn my vote. Bernie made me care.”
Despite the overwhelming support for Sanders, Williams went with Clinton.
“The arguments were emotional,” he said, and he worried a vote for Sanders could mean risking the White House.
Ed Barnes, a Clinton supporter, reminded his fellow precinct committee members that when John F. Kennedy was running for president, some people said the Pope would be running the White House. When Harry Truman was running, Barnes said, the Republicans said the mafia would control the president. With Barack Obama, it was said Muslims would be in control.
No president, Barnes said, including Clinton with Wall Street backing, is going to let one group control the Oval Office.
Johnny Mandracchia, a Sanders supporter, questioned the overall process. “It’s antiquated,” he said of caucusing.
“We don’t need to stand in a parking lot to talk to our neighbors about candidates,” he said, adding that technology has changed and people can Facebook or Tweet to communicate.
Plus, he added, few were persuaded by each other’s comments and, overall, the process disenfranchised working people who didn’t have the time to carve out of their day.
Cecille Hill agreed. Her husband had a stroke and she is his main caregiver. The 76-year-old went to drop her ballot off and was told she had to stay for the entire 2-hour caucus for her vote to count. She couldn’t leave her husband that long.
“I was upset,” said the Clinton supporter. “My husband is a Republican and is able to vote for the person of his choice in the primaries, and I couldn’t vote for who I wanted to. … There’s so many people who can’t make it to a caucus.”