Huge turnout at GOP caucuses shows interest in politics

More than 700 people attended the caucuses on Saturday, about five times more than attended four years ago.

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The turnout for Saturday's Republican caucus, particularly in Eastern Washington, was astounding. Clearly folks are focused on the election and political issues.

Generally, caucuses are attended only by a handful of die-hard political junkies who relish debating the issues. Each political party holds caucuses to hammer out a party platform and elect delegates to the county and state conventions. This year the Republican caucus served as the de facto presidential primary since the Legislature canceled the primary to save the state $10 million.

More than 700 people attended the Walla Walla County GOP caucus at the fairgrounds. Four years ago, 146 people attended the local caucuses. Even fewer -- just 65 -- attended the event two years ago.

An estimated 50,000 people participated in the caucuses statewide, according to state Republican officials. And while that total is small relative to the 3.7 million registered voters statewide, it is nevertheless significant.

Attending a caucus is a commitment of time and energy. Attending a caucus means sharing your views and taking a stand. It's old-fashioned grassroots politics, which can sometimes get heated and contentious.

Things got hot in Kennewick even before the caucus began. More than 3,000 people showed up. After waiting in line for 90 minutes, 1,500 people were turned away because there was not enough space.

The results of those caucuses are apparently being challenged but it is likely the results will stand. Caucuses, by their nature, don't yield a clear-cut, tidy winner.

Statewide, Mitt Romney was the winner with 38 percent of the vote in the presidential straw poll. Ron Paul edged out Rick Santorum for second place with about 25 percent. Santorum had 24 percent and Newt Gingrich trailed with 10 percent.

Romney topped the Walla Walla caucus with 264 votes, followed by Santorum with 226 votes, Paul with 117 votes and Gingrich with 90 votes. Twenty-four people marked themselves as "undecided," said Jim Johnson, the local Republican Central Committee chairman.

These vote totals will not necessarily translate to support for those candidates when the state delegation casts votes at the GOP national convention this summer. Again, this is not a tidy process -- it's an evolving process in which delegates who pledge support for a candidate are sent up the convention ladder to eventually be state delegates. Other delegates are elected officials (super delegates), who get a vote because of their standing in the party.

Republican officials here and throughout the state have to be thrilled. A strong turnout at the caucuses can serve to energize grassroot support for candidates and GOP issues.

It's difficult to predict the direction Washington is headed as November is light years away politically speaking, but it is obvious Republicans are fired up.

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