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That caucus will be raucus as parties rally

Neighborhood democracy is here, as presidential picks hang in balance.

Falling four days after yesterday’s “Super Tuesday” frenzy, which saw 24 states caucus or vote for party presidential nominees, it would be easy to write off Washington’s caucuses as an afterthought.

That would be a mistake, island Democratic and Republican organizers say.

“It looks like it’s going to be a real delegate battle,” Hillary Clinton volunteer Maura Brueger said at a caucus training session in Poulsbo Saturday. “That means that every state will count, including Washington.”

Democrats are counting on a big turnout for Saturday’s caucus, which will determine all the state’s county level delegates.

The Democratic primary, scheduled for Feb. 19, will be a symbolic “beauty pageant” Brueger said.

This year Democrats and Republicans will caucus on the same day. Washington Republicans will use the caucuses to determine roughly half their delegates with the other half awarded in the Feb. 19 presidential primary.

Berni Scheffler, president of Bainbridge Island Republican Women, said an unsettled race for the Republican nomination could give Washington’s caucus special significance.

“For the first time in a long time I think Washington has a chance to play a role on a national level,” she said.

For supporters of the leading Democratic candidates, this week will be spent rallying support and honing caucus strategy.

In Poulsbo, Clinton supporters, many from Bainbridge, staged a mock caucus to get familiar with the process.

They began by signing in and listing their preference for a candidate or as an undecided. Those sign in results are tallied and run through a formula to determine the number of delegates awarded to each candidate.

Time is then allowed for persuasive speeches from each side after which preferences can be switched. Once a final delegate count is calculated, supporters of each candidate choose delegates to represent them in the county convention.

Attendees at the Clinton meeting were acutely aware that a similar strategy session had been held by supporters of Barack Obama in Poulsbo that morning. The race has created friendly rifts in neighborhoods and families.

Islander Patrick Sheldon has hosted several caucus training sessions and helped coordinate volunteer leaders to drum up support in each precinct. He said the local Obama meetings have brought out energetic crowds and many who will be first time caucus goers.

Most Bainbridge Democrats can expect a phone call or knock on the door from both Clinton and Obama supporters this week.

“We’ll try to get calls in to everyone who has voted Democrat and is a likely caucus goer,” Sheldon said.

In Kitsap County, Republicans use a “pooled caucus,” meaning numerous precincts are gathered at single location. All Bainbridge Repubicans will caucus at the American Legion Hall.

Republican precincts have a set number of delegates based on the number of registered voters in the area. After signing in and taking care of formalities, caucus goers elect delegates to represent their precinct at the county convention, but those delegates are not committed to any one candidate. Republican delegates don’t take sides until the state convention.

Scheffler said that there has been little local campaigning for Republican presidential candidates, but she expects it to pick up before the primary.

She is looking for a large turnout at this year’s caucus, which was moved to a Saturday to encourage participation.

“We’re trying to bring it back to a grassroots level,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”

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