It was New Hampshire and Iowa earlier in the month.
Soon to follow will be the results of presidential primaries or caucuses of another 29 states.
And islanders — and Washington state voters alike — won’t be on the sidelines watching from afar for much longer. In fact, ballots for the statewide Feb. 19 presidential primary will be in the mail by the end of the month.
But the local political landscape heats up for real the week before when Republicans and Democrats meet on five separate islands Feb. 9 to debate the pros and cons of their party’s presidential candidates and select delegates as part of the respective precinct caucuses.
For both parties, Democrats in particular, the precinct caucus is the first step in determining which presidential candidate will garner the largest share of statewide partisan support. Of the 40 delegates that will attend the Republican National Convention in September, about half will be selected based on results of the primary and half by party caucuses.
For the Democrats, the presidential primary is largely a barometer. Its 97 delegates to the party’s national convention and which candidate each supports will be determined solely by party caucus. The jockeying for position begins at the precinct level.
Precinct officer Rena Patty of Orcas Island expects a “lively” discussion at the precinct caucus and that cases will be made for lesser known candidates — like Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio — ignored by the major media. Delegates chosen at the precinct level go onto the party’s April 5 legislative district caucus.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to hear why people support which candidates and for what reasons,” Patty said of the give-and-take at the caucus. “The real excitement for me is to see people being involved in the democratic process.”
In the 2004, party officials were expecting 100 people at the precinct caucus. They were stunned and delighted when about 400 showed, Patty added.
The local Green Party will select a presidential candidate at a nominating convention later this summer, the date of which has yet to be determined.
With excitement on high following the Iowa caucus, local GOP Chairwoman Cindy Carter is expecting a record turnout at each of the party’s four precinct caucuses. Carter, also of Orcas Island, points to the low-approval rating of the democratically held Congress as another reason that the GOP — nationwide and locally — can expect a surge in numbers and support. Recent polls, she said, show more dissatisfaction with Congress than President Bush and his administration.
“The big draw this year will be the candidates,” Carter said. “The caucus is a great opportunity for people to sit down and talk about the issues with reasoned opinions and about the candidates.”
For the GOP, the allocation of delegates to the party’s March 29 countywide caucus will be determined at the precinct level. Five delegates will attend the state caucus in Spokane later in the year.
Several prominent Republicans visited as a prelude to the precinct caucuses and as part of the GOP’s Lincoln Day events on Jan. 18 and 19. State Attorney General Rob McKenna and former 40th District Republican candidate Doug Wellstone were at Lopez Island’s Woodmen Hall and the Legion Hall on Orcas Island Jan. 18. Gubernatorial candidate and former state senator Dino Rossi attended a luncheon at Woodmen Hall on Jan. 19 and dinner at the San Juan Island Yacht Club later in the day.
GOP/Dems party caucuses Feb. 9
— Orcas precincts 1-4, Decatur/Blakely and Shaw/Stuart: Orcas Island American Legion hall on Crescent Beach Road; 1 p.m.
— San Juan precincts 1-5 and Friday Harbor 1-2: Grange Hall in Friday Harbor; 1 p.m.
— Lopez precincts 1-2 caucus: Woodman Hall; 1 p.m.
— San Juan Island: Friday Harbor High School; 1 p.m.
— Waldron: Community Center; 1 p.m.
— Orcas: Orcas High School; 1 p.m.
— Lopez: Lopez School; 1 p.m.
— Shaw: TBD, 1 p.m.
Doors open at 12:30 for all Democrat caucuses.
The Democratic Candidates Forum will be Saturday, Feb. 2, 1 p.m. at Lopez Center. The agenda will include information on how the Caucus will operate, what to expect and how it is different from the Primary. Bill Evans will make a presentation concerning the School Bond, which is on the Primary ballot.