400 attend Republican Mercer Island caucus

Islanders who came to participate in the Republican caucus at Islander Middle School last Saturday morning were on a mission. They want to send a clear and unified message about who they prefer for president.

Organizers estimated that there were 400 or more Islanders who came. For many, it was the first time that they had attended a caucus.

Amid the crowd, there was little evidence of individual candidates’ campaigns. A table for candidate Ron Paul was set up outside the room. There was little campaign ephemera to be seen; only a few buttons and T-shirts.

Two dozen or so tables were set up using pairs of cafeteria tables in the school’s multipurpose room to accommodate each precinct.

The room buzzed with conversation and laughter while neighbors greeted one another as they found their tables.

For Islander John Hendricks, 59, it was his first caucus. When he realized there would not be a primary, he had to come. He found his precinct table early and waited for others. His table and every other spot in the room were soon filled.

“This year we have a real challenge,” he said of the process to select a candidate. “The process so far has been devastating to the party.”

“For me,” he continued, “this needs to be about picking up the pieces and finding a candidate that can beat Obama.”

“We need to remember how to compromise,” he said.

Karen Parson was also surprised and dismayed to find there would not be a primary. A straw poll is non-binding, she said. What happened to our right to vote?

This was her first caucus as well.

She was also surprised to find that the caucus was not open to members of the press, observers or even children. She wanted to know why. Event organizers were adamant that reporters and children were to sit at a table in the far corner of the room. The event was private, observers were told.

Parson was told that if she wished to talk with a reporter, she had to go to them.

Those were the rules.

Precinct Committee Officer Mike Cero said he was pleased with the caucus, adding that the attendance was much better than in the last one he attended.

“It was well run and everyone behaved. It was democracy at its best,” he said.

Phyllis Reigel, who was also a first-timer, said that she felt it was “more important than ever to participate in the process. It is an extremely important election.” An Island resident since 1971, she said that the party has to come together and find a candidate. “We cannot have four more years of Obama.”

Islander Reggie Koo, 20, came to the caucus to observe the process for a class he is taking at Bellevue College. A native of South Korea, Koo is finishing high school and his associate degree at BC simultaneously this spring. He volunteered for Dave Reichert’s last campaign, making phone calls in Bellevue. He was surprised at how no one wanted to talk to him when they heard he was calling for the Republican party — he had thought that Bellevue was a fairly wealthy community, and was therefore Republican. Out of 100 calls, just four people agreed to talk with him.

Koo is waiting to hear about his college applications — in particular from Harvard, where he plans to major in political science. His goal is to return to South Korea and take what he learns here to promote democracy there.

Results from the Island caucus are not yet available. However, other media reports indicate that Mitt Romney is the winner statewide.


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