They won’t get to vote for president for a few more months, but Republicans who met Saturday on South Hill seemed to agree on one thing: Anyone but Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders for the White House.
The group of about 300 people gathered at Foursquare Church on South Hill for one of many Republican precinct caucus meetings held Saturday throughout Washington.
At the caucus meetings, Republican voters chose who among them would become delegates to county- or district-level conventions. A subset of those delegates will be elected to go to the 2016 Republican National Convention, where the Republican party will officially chose its nominee for president.
Yet turnout at the precinct caucuses wasn’t what it was four years ago, partly because the state Republican party isn’t using the caucus results to help decide the GOP presidential nominee this year.
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Instead, Republicans are using results from Washington’s May 24 primary election to award delegates to presidential candidates at the Republican National Convention, which takes place July 18-21 in Cleveland.
Reflecting the diminished role of this year’s precinct caucuses in the presidential race, few people at the Republican caucus meeting in South Hill outwardly showed signs of which Republican candidate they’d prefer.
John Berry of Puyallup was among the only attendees proudly displaying his support for Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, with a hat that bore the real-estate mogul’s campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again.”
“I like the idea that he doesn’t let people attack him and think they can get away with it,” said Berry, 84. “I think the system needs to be shaken up, and he’s the one to do it.”
Berry, however, said he’d support whichever candidate ultimately wins the Republican nomination, a common sentiment among Republicans Saturday.
“Our candidates are very spirited,” said David McMullan, the GOP leader in the 25th Legislative District, which includes Puyallup, South Hill, Midland, Summit-Waller and Fife. “Quite frankly, I think every one of them is more worthy of the White House than the current occupant ... or Hillary Clinton.”
Jay Forde of South Hill said he’s supporting Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, but added that any of the Republican candidates will do.
“Frankly, any of them who gets up there is going to get my support, just to keep Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders out,” said Forde, 48.
At the South Hill caucus location, only one person actively campaigned for a candidate. Bob Henkel of Midland handed out books and fliers for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, saying he admires how Carson has managed to stay above the fray so far during the campaign.
“He isn’t trying to cut somebody else down so he looks better,” said Henkel, 85. “To me, that’s the way it should be.”
Several other people said they’re backing Cruz, who recently won the Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa, or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
“We kind of need a new face to the Republican party,” said Travis Colwell, 23. “That’s why I support Rubio.”
Prospective delegates to the Pierce County Republican Convention didn’t face much competition this year. On Saturday, precinct caucuses were tasked with selecting up to 1,500 delegates to attend the April 9 event at the Washington State Fairgrounds, but party officials said Saturday that they expected to end up with only about half that many.
At the county convention, Pierce County Republicans will choose 174 delegates to advance to the state convention, which will in turn elect 41 national delegates.
Initially, those national delegates will be bound to vote for a presidential candidate based on Washington state’s primary election results. But if the delegates in Cleveland are so divided that no candidate wins a majority on the first ballot, Washington’s delegates will be then free to vote for the candidate of their choice.
That possibility — however remote — is what made Saturday’s caucuses and the delegates chosen there so important, said Deryl McCarty, chairman of the Pierce County Republican Party.
“It matters a lot, because you are choosing that second vote,” McCarty said.
Unlike Republicans, Democrats in Washington this year are using precinct caucuses to allocate delegates in the presidential race, while ignoring the results of the primary.
Throughout the state, Democratic precinct caucuses are scheduled for Saturday, March 26.