Democratic organizers were expecting a healthy 250 or so people to show up for the North Whidbey caucus Saturday.
They got twice that.
In a reflection of caucuses across the state, it was a standing-room-only crowd at the Democratic gathering in the large commons area that spilled out into the hallways of North Whidbey Middle School. There was a feeling of excitement and energy in the air as everyone from teenaged voters and elderly members of the party discussed politics together, often shaking hands and even high-fiving.
“Change” was the buzzword of the day as participants favored Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton by a two-to-one margin.
“Change is what this country needs,” said first-time voter Matthew Lacanfora in a rallying speech to his precinct, “and Obama will change this country.”
E.J. Krouse, a Navy veteran, agreed with the assessment.
“My hope is that Obama is going to be able to bring this country together,” he said. “Not just Democrats, but Republicans. Together we’re a much stronger nation.”
Marshall Goldberg, chairman of the Island County Democrats, said the high turnout made for a chaotic, but exhilarating day. He said the numbers broke all previous records for participation.
“I think history was made on Saturday and I think most people would agree,” he said. “I think we will never see this happen again.”
The numbers tell the story. Some 461 people signed in at the North Whidbey caucus Saturday, plus many others in the room were just observing, came in too late to sign up or were too young to vote.
In 2004 and 2006, about 200 people showed up each year.
The participation was greater in other parts of the county, outside the historic Republican stronghold of North Whidbey. On Central Whidbey, 909 people participated in the caucus; on South Whidbey 1,444 attended; and 655 participated on Camano Island. In all, that’s 3,469 Democrats who took part in the caucus this year, while only 1,541 did in 2004.
The breakdown of delegates was similar in each area of the county, with Obama routing Clinton. On North Whidbey, Obama earned 59 delegates and Clinton got 33; Obama got 65 on Central Whidbey to Clinton’s 29; Obama received 88 on South Whidbey while Clinton got 33; and on Camano, Obama received 56, Clinton got 29 and two were uncommitted.
Like other participants, Goldberg attributes the current popularity of the political process to a number of factors.
“It’s a very close race, it’s the interest in both candidates,” he said, “and it’s the frustration and need for change. We need to take the country back.”
Goldberg said he and other organizers recognized several Republicans or former Republicans in the crowd, which he took as a very good sign of change.
“My goal is to turn North Whidbey as blue as possible,” he said.
Although the delegate totals are a good indication of the final results for the state, Saturday was technically just the beginning of the process. Delegates will go to the back-to-back county convention and 10th Legislative District caucus April 19 in Langley. While the convention is for discussing resolutions and refining the platform, delegates will be chosen at the caucus. Some of the delegates will go on to 2nd Congressional District caucus May 17 and others will go to the state convention June 14. From there, delegates will be picked for the national convention in Denver Aug. 25.
“It’s an inverted pyramid,” Goldberg explained.
The Democrats will not use the result of the Feb. 19 presidential primary to allocate delegates, instead relying entirely on the caucus process.
While the majority of caucus-goers were buzzing about Obama Saturday, Clinton definitely had steadfast supporters in the crowd. Jennifer Compton came home from college just to support Clinton in the caucus. She points out that the former First Lady has more experience and better credentials when it comes to issues like health care and women’s rights.
But like most people in the room, Compton said she will support whoever the nominee ultimately is. It’s a choice she hopes is made soon.
“The Democratic party needs to unite behind someone,” she said. “How are we going to defeat the Republican if we can’t get behind one candidate?”