SPOKANE — On most mornings, the Moran Prairie Grange is a lone grey building on a largely desolate South Palouse highway. But by 10 a.m. today hundreds of cars lined the road and the spacious two-story barn was bursting with people.
The Grange hosted parts of two legislative districts, the 6th and 9th. The turnout was so unexpectedly large, districts were broken into quarters and thirds. Precinct Committee Officers volunteered to create makeshift precinct caucuses in nearby houses. As UW Election Eye colleague Alicia Halberg and I entered, a stream of people was being escorted to new locations.
Those who stayed within the Grange’s walls found themselves without seating. In a last ditch effort, organizers ran out and rented chairs. With more than 270 chairs offered, there were still many left standing.
District Leader Gretchen McDevitt, of the 6th Legislative District, covered some of the cost of the caucus, but was ecstatic about the turnout.
Last year’s election had only six people, she said.
Larger groups meant longer voting processes and many deferred to straw polls. Still, caucuses kept going past 1 p.m. Joseph Harari, a veterinarian from South Hill, was impressed with people’s dedication and patience.
“People have been here over three hours and they keep voting and voting. Nobody’s killed each other yet,” he joked.
I sat in on a Green Acres area precinct — yes, that is the correct name — with a large attendance, wherein Mitt Romney was lauded for his business sense. Rick Santorum came in a close second for speaking from the heart and sticking to fundamental values.
Julie Boehrig was the only one to speak on Newt Gingrich’s behalf, maintaining he was the only candidate strong enough to defeat Obama.
“Maybe he doesn’t have the money to buy the election,” she said, jabbing at the Romney camp. She was then voted down as a delegate candidate, but did get named as an alternate.
No one spoke for Ron Paul in this precinct.
On the other side of town, the scene at All Saints Lutheran Church was much different. This much-smaller downtown Spokane caucus welcomed a bevy of young libertarians in support of Paul. All other candidates appeared to be in the minority.
Kevin (he did not provide his last name) told me he’d be voting for the first time in his 32 years. He and his wife had gotten hooked on Paul three months ago upon watching a 10-minute campaign advertisement on YouTube. Now, Kevin was motivated to act.
“If there was ever a time, it’s now,” he said.
At these two caucuses on opposite sides of Spokane, the candidate preferences were very different. But the goal was the same: Defeat Barack Obama.
Alicia Halberg contributed reporting to this post.