With reporting by Bryan Cohen, Josh Kelety, and Alex Garland
We’re out collecting sights and sounds from the day as Capitol Hill caucuses and Washington helps select a Democratic candidate for president. Let us know how it’s going and what you see. Happy democracy! You can view the latest totals at wa-democrats.org/caucus-results
UPDATE: The Sanders campaign pulled off a landslide victory across the state Saturday — and at caucus locations across much of the Hill — tallying 73% of votes and claiming 25 delegates in the state vs. Clinton’s 9. In King County, Sanders claimed 67% of votes.
— Alex Garland (@AGarlandPhoto) March 26, 2016
Long, amazing lines have been the story of the day so far. At Century Ballroom, thousands arrived in a line that snaked through Pike/Pine and around the block — twice. More rooms were being opened up inside the Odd Fellows building and plans were being hatched to move some of the caucus activity to Cal Anderson Park. Other precincts were being moved to facilities at the nearby Central Lutheran Church.
Sen. Jaime Pederson taking precincts 1867 & 1869 to Central Lutheran at 11th/E Olive pic.twitter.com/AT5bSllqHA
— Bryan Cohen (@bchasesc) March 26, 2016
Equally enthusiastic lines though not quite so long were reported at other caucus locations around the Hill including Lowell Elementary, Miller Community Center, and Town Hall on First Hill.
Sanders appeared to win most of 18 precincts that caucused in and around Century Ballroom.
Despite the somewhat chaotic process of relocating caucus goers from Century Ballroom, the crowds remained civil and focused on the task at hand. “It’s not so bad, we got to be in the park, meet our neighbors,” said Ryan O’Connor.
Many at the Capitol Hill caucus said they would unite behind whichever candidate received the nomination, fearing a Donald Trump presidency.
It was a festive atmosphere around Cal Anderson Park, as caucus goers basked in the sun with kids and dogs in tow. While the crowds were massive, turnout did vary by precinct. One precinct inside Century Ballroom had more than 100 caucus-goers while another in Cal Anderson park only had a couple dozen.
Clinton’s practicality versus Sanders’ idealism was the dominant theme as voters spoke to sway their undecided neighbors.
“I would love to vote for Bernie, but I find it completely impractical,” said Eric Johnson while speaking to his precinct on a Cal Anderson basketball court.
“(Sanders) supports the change we need to see in this country,” said Fawn Ellis, who caucused in Cal Anderson Park with her two-year-old. “A society where everybody contributes.”
“People said $15 minimum wage was impossible … We need to push for what we believe in,“ said Bernie supporter Jay Schreiber.
Cheers erupted throughout the afternoon in the park and inside Century Ballroom as undecided voters picked their sides. Frances Chu, who caucused for Clinton, said she knew Sanders would likely take Capitol Hill but that she still wanted to be a part of the process.
In response to a Clinton supporter who said Sanders was too generationally divisive, a Sanders supporter stepped forward while holding his infant child to say, “I’m 46, she’s 10 weeks. There’s no generational separation.”
Saturday was Nickie Bowen’s first-ever caucus after moving to Seattle from Georgia last year. “I really liked engaging with people. We got to listen to people’s views,” she said. “It didn’t get super heated. It was respectful.”
For years, caucuses were held in private homes. Today Harriet Wasserman has the last remaining home caucus in the 43rd District. She has been holding the event in her livings room since 1968. “It’s really exciting. It’s a contribution,” she said.
While her living room was standing room only on Saturday, Wasserman said the 2008 caucus drew even larger crowds. She said the 1972 caucus was an especially exciting year, with big debates between supporters of George McGovern and Edmund Muskie.
Meanwhile, at Miller Community Center, the theme of big crowds was being felt. “We have twice as many people than expected,” 43rd District Rep. Brady Walkinshaw announced.
At the Horizon House retirement community on First Hill, a small crowd of around 200 mostly seniors and a smattering of middle age and young people from two precincts gathered to caucus.
Things got going thirty minutes late with the caucus area organizer, Al, addressing the crowd at a little before 10:30 on how the caucus was going to work, and then giving people the opportunity to speak and attempt sway the handful of undecided voters to choose for their desired candidate. The caucus of primarily seniors often had to indignantly tell Al to speak up.
It seemed like a pro-Bernie crowd — though it was close. A few elderly attendees sported Bernie Sanders shirts and buttons, while a handful wore Clinton buttons. Sanders supporters spanned the usual generational divide between both candidates in this election cycle.
Nancy Fosmore, a 73-year-old Horizon House resident caucused for Sanders. “He has the best ideas on what should happen, but either one is fairly acceptable in the general election.” She added that her husband wasn’t there yet because he thought it was pointless to show up on time to caucuses that are “always late anyway.” And 29-year-old recent Seattle transplant from Pennsylvania Brad Docherti said, “Bernie has a better temperament than Clinton,” adding that when he took an online quiz on his policy positions he matched up with Sanders. “But I’ll vote Democrat either way.”
During the speechifying segment the crowd seemed equally split between Sanders and Clinton in their responses to speeches for a given candidate (Sanders speakers did get a slightly more enthusiastic response, however). One 72-year-old Clinton supporter took aim at Sanders’ electability in the general election, citing Democrat George McGovern’s loss to Republican Richard Nixon in 1972 (McGovern was an idealistic lefty Democratic nominee) and comparing it to a potential Sanders versus whatever Republican gets nominated match-up. “You don’t win in the general by going far left,” she said.
An elderly Sanders supporter referenced the moment Sanders’ recent Portland rally when a bird landed on his podium. “Did any of you see Bernie with the bird the other day? Think about how your candidate [Hilary?] would respond to a bird like that.” He then launched into a defense of Sanders’ “consistent progressive record.”
Caucus with the mayor
The Lowell Elementary school caucus was packed, chaotic, and passionate, but overall very polite and respectful, with most precincts wrapping up their business around 12:30 despite a late start. The caucus site spilled over, and several precincts were forced to meet in the hallways outside of the main room. There was a fair amount of Clinton support, but Sanders won out in the end, with the final delegate tally coming to 33 for Sanders and 23 for Clinton.
Emilio, a Sanders supporter, precinct committee officer, and caucus area organizer, said that this didn’t get going until 10:55 due to the large turnout. “The thing that has been really impressive is everyone’s ability to self organize,” he said.
Mayor Ed Murray made a brief appearance towards the beginning of the caucus, reportedly telling the crowd “It’s really crowded in here and that’s a good thing.” Murray endorsed Clinton on Tuesday.
There was some confusion among caucus goers as to the speechifying rules. Some precincts were giving any person who wanted to speak for either candidate three minutes each, while some were giving three minutes to one speaker for each candidate. Two
Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League, and candidate to represent the 43rd legislative district in the State Legislature, caucused for Sanders—citing his focus on economic inequality and issues fac millennials like student loan debt—at Lowell and is going on to be a delegate at the King County convention. She called the caucus process “a mess,” but that the turnout was “amazing.” “It was super polite,” she said of the caucus. “Passionate but super polite.”
66-year-old Pat Dawson caucused for Sanders because “Hillary is too status quo,” though she added that Bernie could use some “radicalization” on issues of LGBT rights, women’s rights, and race. Dawson said she’d vote for Hillary in the general election. “The worse thing would be to get a Republican candidate.”
As for the caucus process, she said it was “inspirational”, though she wished state democrats used a “nice primary.” “It’s democracy in action. No surprise that it’s messy,” she added.
In one precinct, a Sanders supporter slammed Clinton as being in the pockets of Wall Street and corporate America. “Her experience is so unappealing,” he said in response to an often cited reason to vote for Clinton by her supporters. In response, a Clinton supporter politely reminded Sanders supporters that the president can’t do everything. “If you support Bernie, god bless you. But you need to be there in midterm elections if you want to see any of his ideas happen.”
Dennis Torres, a 53 year old Clinton supporter, left the caucus somewhat exasperated. “It’s incredibly chaotic,” he said, referring to the process. “Have we always had a caucus system?” To defend his candidate preference he said “she’s incredibly qualified.” “I’d be happy with Bernie too,” he said. (His husband voted Bernie).
At Lowell, Mayor Ed Murray said the enthusiasm reminded him of another time a Clinton faced a battle with a liberal challenger. We all remember what happened to the Paul Tsongas campaign in 1992. Given the apparent strength of Bernie Sanders support around the Hill, it looks like the senator is likely to do very well here and across the state. Just like 1992.
The first counts of the morning seemed indicative of the trend. Most reports that came in through the day showed Sanders claiming the majority of precincts with only two on the Hill that we’re aware of claimed by Clinton — a northern Capitol Hill precinct that caucused at Lowell and the house caucus at the Wassermann residence.
Precinct 2547's first tally: Hillary 15. Bernie 80. pic.twitter.com/7Ta4QC5urs
— Ryan Packer (@typewriteralley) March 26, 2016