Tens of thousands of Democrats in Washington met Saturday at community centers, schools and churches to choose which candidate they want to be their party’s presidential nominee: Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.
As it turned out, most of them were definitely feeling the Bern.
Results from Washington’s Democratic caucuses showed Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, overwhelmingly defeating Democratic frontrunner Clinton by nearly a 3-to-1 margin.
As of about 8 p.m. Saturday, Sanders was winning 72 percent of delegates to Clinton’s 28 percent. The Associated Press called the race for Sanders by midafternoon.
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At stake are 101 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, which will be allocated proportionally between the candidates, based on the caucus results.
Washington also has 17 superdelegates — elected officials and party leaders who aren’t bound to vote based on the caucuses. Most of the state’s superdelegates, including Gov. Jay Inslee and members of the state’s congressional delegation, have said they’re supporting Clinton.
Both Sanders and Clinton, the former secretary of state, campaigned in Washington earlier in the week to drum up support before Saturday’s caucuses. Throughout the week, Sanders drew tens of thousands of people to rallies in Seattle, Vancouver, Spokane and Yakima.
Combined with his victory at Alaska’s Democratic caucuses Saturday, Sanders said his campaign now “has the momentum” to catch up to Clinton.
“We are on a path toward victory,” Sanders said while speaking to a crowd in Wisconsin on Saturday.
Results from the Democratic caucuses in Hawaii were expected late Saturday.
Prior to Saturday, Clinton held a lead of about 300 pledged delegates nationwide, plus the support of more than 400 additional superdelegates.
In Washington, the precinct caucuses took place at more than 500 locations, with many sites drawing large crowds.
The state Democratic party said the turnout may match the previous record set in 2008, when about 250,000 people statewide attended caucuses during the Democratic matchup between Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama.
I think he kind of speaks the truth more than I’ve seen from Hillary.
Kathryn Parker, a 26-year-old from Tacoma who caucused in support of Bernie Sanders
At Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma, the line to enter the caucus site Saturday stretched around the block, circling the school’s athletic fields.
About 1,300 people attended, including 26-year-old Kathryn Parker. Parker said she was supporting Sanders partly because of his support for a single-payer health care system, but also because she thinks he is “no B.S.”
“I think he kind of speaks the truth more than I’ve seen from Hillary,” said Parker, who said she supported Clinton during the 2008 campaign.
Inside the building, voters gathered by precinct in the school’s auditorium and gymnasium to talk over their choices for who should be the nation’s next commander-in-chief.
In each group, supporters of Sanders gathered on one side while Clinton fans gathered on the other, with each side trying to woo voters who were undecided.
“I am for Hillary, because it is beyond time for a woman to be president in this country,” said Marcy Rodenborn, 50, a Tacoma resident who lives just a few blocks from Jason Lee. “I just feel having a woman as president is going to make a fundamental change in our society.”
Others said they were supporting Clinton based on her level of experience, which includes serving as first lady, a U.S. senator and most recently as the secretary of state.
“It gives her the experience to know how they system works and get things through,” said Elise Falkenhayn, 48, who lives in North Tacoma near the University of Puget Sound.
I am for Hillary, because it is beyond time for a woman to be president in this country.
Marcy Rodenborn, 50, who caucused for Clinton on Saturday
Yet supporters of Sanders far outnumbered Clinton supporters at the Jason Lee caucus location and throughout the state. In some precincts, as many of 80 percent of those participating supported the Vermont senator.
Among them was Martin Nyberg, who said he backs Sanders partly due to the senator’s commitment to getting big money out of politics. Speaking to his neighbors, Nyberg said he doesn’t think getting elected should be about finding millionaires and billionaires to finance a campaign.
He said he supports Sanders’ calls for publicly financed campaigns and the end of independent expenditure-only committees, commonly known as super PACs.
“It pollutes the entire campaign process, and the Democratic process is rigged,” said Nyberg, who is in his 50s and lives near the middle school.
As a whole, Pierce County voters at the caucuses overwhelmingly backed Sanders, following the statewide trend.
Many Sanders supporters caucusing at Jason Lee said they liked Sanders’ proposal for free tuition at public colleges and universities. Several said they also feel Sanders’ views have remained consistent over time, which they said makes it easier to know where he truly stands.
Sean Dill, 30, caucused for Sanders along with six of his roommates Saturday. He said he thinks Sanders’ policies will help ensure his 5-month-old daughter, Kaylee, doesn’t struggle as much as he has under the burden of student loans.
“Me and my friends have tens of thousands of dollars of student debt,” said Dill, adding it is hard to find jobs with wages good enough to pay off what he owes.
“I really want her experience to be better than my experience,” Dill said of his daughter.
Me and my friends have tens of thousands of dollars of student debt. I really want (my daughter’s) experience to be better than my experience.
Sean Dill, 30, who supported Bernie Sanders at his local precinct caucus and supports Sanders’ plan for free public colleges and universities
Democrats concluded the precinct caucuses by selecting delegates to attend upcoming county and legislative district caucuses — the first step in selecting delegates to attend the Democratic National Convention in July.
Statewide, 27,170 delegates were selected Saturday to move to the next level, with the caucus results determining how many of those delegates will support Clinton and how many will be supporting Sanders.
The delegate pool will be whittled down further to 1,400 people at legislative district caucuses on April 17 and county conventions May 1.
Those delegates will advance to congressional district caucuses on May 21, where 67 of them will be chosen to go to the Democratic National Convention.
An additional 34 delegates to the national convention will be selected from a pool of party leaders and elected officials at the state convention, which takes place June 17-19 in Tacoma. Unlike superdelegates, those delegates will be bound to support candidates based on the results of the May 21 congressional district caucuses.
Republicans in Washington were not caucusing Saturday to help their party make its pick for president.
Rather, the state Republican party is using the results of Washington’s May 24 primary election to allocate delegates to candidates at the Republican National Convention. Precinct caucuses that the party had in February won’t be used to allocate delegates.