KINGSTON — Kingston High School had a nearly full parking lot when we arrived at 9:45 this morning. The setting was stunning: a new state of the art high school set amidst cedar trees, with the boys baseball team warming up on the field.
UW Election Eye reporter Lucas Anderson and I followed signs from the parking lot to the school cafeteria, where over 120 people were seated at long tables, being welcomed by Shirley J. Brown, Precinct Committee Officer for Port Gamble 450. When we approached the volunteers and introduced ourselves, we were told that we were not to interview attendees, film them, or take any photographs.
Suddenly, the enormous bag of camera equipment Lucas was carrying felt like a ball and chain.
But the UW Election Eye is all about entrepreneurial journalism, so we shifted gears, took a seat, and looked forward to watching the proceedings.
Brown runs a tight ship, and the caucus unfolded with military precision. She stressed that the caucus prevents decisions to be made outside of “smoke filled back rooms,” and spoke to the excitement the Washington GOP feels about being in the national spotlight. “You better believe we’re going to be on the national news tonight.”
Soon precincts were huddling up to vote on delegates and eventually, submit straw poll votes for a GOP presidential candidate. The din in the cafeteria sent some groups scrambling for quieter corners.
In the precinct I observed, the straw poll was split with 2 for Mitt Romney, 2 for Newt Gingrich, 3 for Rick Santorum, and 4 for Ron Paul (one Paul voter used a real silver dollar to make his point about the gold standard.) The precinct that Lucas sat in on had a stronger showing for Romney with 8 votes, Paul with 4, Santorum with 2, and none for Gingrich.
Discussions of GOP delegates ranged from precinct to precinct, with some engaging in heated debates, while others wrapped up their voting in matter of minutes, with little discussion about the individual candidates. That said, caucus-goer Isaac Anderson prefers the caucus process: “It feels more genuine that just mailing in a ballot.”
As the caucus wound to a close, Brown granted us an on-camera interview and said she hopes to call in the straw poll numbers in short order as “soon as the votes are finished.” “We will do a count right here,” Brown said.
Brown marveled at the size of the turnout — she guessed it was twice as large as 2008 — and the pride Washington Republicans felt about the exposure.
“I think it’s wonderful that we have this opportunity today for people to recognize that we have a process going on,” she said, and “that every opportunity and every effort was made so that they could come in and participate and that the rest of the country sees that ‘Oh wow, there are Republicans up there!'”
Lucas Anderson contributed to this post.