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Hillary, John, Barak, Mike, or Mitt?

Local politics go national Saturday as Island County residents meet to discuss the merits of Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and other candidates running for President of the United States.

While most people do not attend caucuses for entertainment -— or a relaxing setting — Saturday’s political gatherings being held throughout Island County should see unprecedented numbers of attendees.

On North Whidbey, Republicans will gather at Oak Harbor Christian School, while Democrats will be at North Whidbey Middle School. Every caucus around the county will begin at 1 p.m.

For the layperson unfamiliar with the caucusing process, what appears to be pure chaos is actually a structured gathering of supporters with a desire to voice their opinions. Between 1 and 3 p.m., both parties — meeting in four separate Island County locations — nominate and elect delegates to their respective county conventions, who will represent the presidential preferences of the caucus attendees.

The Republicans will hold their county convention March 22 and the Democrats on April 19.

The second caucus objective is to bring forward concerns or desires party members or supporters feel should be included in the party platform. The Republicans will discuss and vote on the issues Saturday while the Democrats will submit their input or proposed resolutions in writing.

“Our participants are encouraged to submit their concerns through this process,” said Marshall Goldberg, Island County Democratic Party chairman. “Resolutions will not be debated or discussed on Saturday. We’re going to accept all of them. They will then be refined and voted on at our county convention.”

Kathy Jones, Island County Republican Party chairwoman, said the overwhelming interest in this year’s presidential race has translated into a barrage of phone calls and emails.

“It’s all about having a voice,” she said. “And about nominating resolutions to convey what positions the Republicans feel are the important issues in Island County that should be include in the party platform.”

The GOP will use straw balloting on Saturday to determine the favorite candidate among county party members, Jones said.

Once the noise dies down and the dust settles, each party will be able to discern through the individual votes the presidential candidate of its choice. The Democratic frontrunners are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, while the tight GOP race is heating up between John McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee and the popular long-shot, Ron Paul. Jones was loath to predict which candidate Island County Republicans will favor.

“I can tell you after Saturday,” she said.

In addition to the issue submittal process, the parties also deviate in their use of the Presidential Primary election scheduled for Feb. 19. The Democrats will not use the result of the primary to allocate delegates, instead relying entirely on the caucus process. However, the Republicans will use the results to distribute 51 per cent of its delegates.

Both parties require that attendees be registered voters and that they declare themselves to be a member of that party. Since one event does not preclude the other, voters from both parties are encouraged to participate in the caucuses as well as the primary. “Democrats start out by voting,” Goldberg said. “writing the name of their candidate preference as they sign in.”

After brief candidate speeches, attendees have a chance to change their vote before the final delegate allocation is made.

Republican members or supporters must take an oath — available for viewing at www.wsrp.org — to participate. Jones said she would like to see more high school and college students attend the caucus.

“We welcome their participation,” she said.

Each precinct will meet at individual tables with the precinct officer leading the process, Jones added. The efficiency of the caucus depends on each officer’s management skills.

Saturday is the beginning of the involved process that will culminate in the nomination of one presidential candidate from each party at their respective national conventions.

“You have the most people at this level,” Goldberg said of the Saturday caucuses. “It’s a huge pyramid that works its way up.”

The county Democratic chair underscored the heightened interest in the upcoming election compared to that of four years ago. After a preliminary meeting at 1 p.m., caucusing will start promptly at 1:30 p.m. and everything should be wrapped up by 3 p.m.

“People need to be patient because there will be a big turnout,” Goldberg said. “They should be ready to caucus and be ready to have fun. I think it will be very interesting. And very noisy. I’m excited about it.”

Some precincts south of Oak Harbor and north of Freeland will caucus in a different location this year and people unsure of where their caucuses will take place should visit the Democratic Party Web site at www.islandcountydemocrats.com or contact Goldberg by phone at 675-5888 or by email at mfgold@comcast.net.

For GOP precinct information, visit the Web site at www.island

countygop.com or contact Jones by email at Kathy@kjonesinc.com or by phone at 929-7632.

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