Islanders flock to caucuses: GOP goes for McCain

North Whidbey’s Republic Caucus was anything but raucous. And that’s a good thing.

The multi-generational group of more than 350 party members or supporters were uninhibited yet respectful Saturday as they discussed candidates and party resolutions. There was present an obvious method to the madness that filled the Oak Harbor Christian School’s auditorium.

“I was very excited to see record turnouts in each of our three pooled locations,” said Kathy Jones, Island County GOP chair. “I am told that the last caucus on North Whidbey had about 50 people. We set out 350 chairs and they were all in use.”

Christian Bayliss and Jim Campbell were two of the six area chairs in perpetual motion. When they took a moment to catch their collective breath, their palpable excitement mirrored that of the large Republican group.

“We never expected this kind of turnout,” said Bayliss, also the Island County GOP secretary and a precinct committee officer. “I think what’s so exciting is there’s so many new people here and we have an opportunity to teach them how this is an opportunity for them to be involved at a grass roots level.”

“It’s been a little frenetic,” said fellow area chair and City Council member Jim Campbell, a PCO and member of the Oak Harbor City Council.

Saturday’s political gathering was a family affair, as grandparents and parents alike caucused while younger Republicans observed and absorbed the process. The number of first timers was encouraging for party supporters.

“I’ve never seen this many people at a convention meeting like this,” said Island County Sheriff Mark Brown. “The little tables are just jammed with people. And a lot of people I’ve talked to, this is their first time coming.”

At each precinct table, candidate John McCain received considerable support, ultimately emerging as the county’s overall choice. McCain received 34.2 percent of the votes, 7.4 percent more than Mike Huckabee. Mitt Romney garnered 13.9 percent and long-shot candidate Ron Paul came away with 8.4 percent of the votes. Almost 17 percent of the county was uncommitted.

Joel Miller and Nicole Powell were the lone representatives of their precinct and decidedly not in the “uncommitted” category. Paul was their unequivocal choice for president.

“He’s the only anti-war candidate left in the race, at least who would bring the troops home,” 23-year-old Miller said. “Obama hasn’t committed to anything. McCain said a hundred years would be alright with him.”

More than 600 people attended the Republican caucuses island-wide, including 100 people in a non-voting group of students, families and observers. Mary Jo Mangiameli, 17, will be able to legally vote in November’s general election but she voluntarily spent her Saturday caucusing solely for her personal edification.

“I wanted to learn more about the process and see the interaction,” she said.

Stevie Hall and Isaac Matthews, sixth and seventh-granders, respectively, brought a soccer ball to serve as a boredom elixir. However, the duo was not without strong opinions.

“I’m for McCain,” Hall said. “I agree with my mom, but my dad likes Huckabee ... I want a president who wouldn’t take the troops out and make it like it was before.”

Matthews, also a McCain supporter, said his views coincide with his parents’.

“They agree on who they want,” he said.

Each Republican precinct — a total of 65 countywide — also used Saturday to elect delegates from each group to attend the March 22 county convention and to vote on what resolutions to send forward. The massive turnout Saturday should yield a much clearer picture of the needs local Republicans feel are top priority.

“When it’s hard to find a parking spot, you really know that’s a good day,” said Vicki Harring, former longtime school board member.

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