Bernie Sanders chalked up a landslide victory over Hillary Clinton in Washington’s Democratic caucuses Saturday.
Drawing throngs of voters with his calls to reclaim political power from the billionaire class, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won a landslide victory over Hillary Clinton Saturday in Washington’s Democratic caucuses.
With heavy turnout overwhelming some caucus locations, sending participants into parking lots and parks to complete voting on the sunny spring day, state Democratic Party officials said the caucuses may reach 2008’s record turnout of 250,000.
By late evening, with 96 percent of precincts reporting, Sanders was winning in every county. He was taking 73 percent of the statewide delegate count, compared with 27 percent for Clinton.
From midmorning on, reports all over Washington showed Sanders was winning in a romp and was likely to grab the lion’s share of 101 pledged delegates up for grabs based on the caucus results. He also won Alaska’s caucuses by a wide margin. Hawaii Democrats also were holding caucuses Saturday.
“We knew things were going to improve when we headed west,” Sanders told a jubilant crowd at a campaign rally in Madison, Wis., as the results were announced.
While analysts have projected that his odds of being the Democratic nominee remain long, Sanders said “we have a path towards victory,” adding it was “hard for anyone to deny that our campaign has the momentum.”
Sanders had counted on high turnout here to propel him to a needed victory to stay viable in the Democratic contest. He held five rallies in the state over the past week, ending with a speech to 15,000 supporters at Seattle’s Safeco Field on Friday night.
Clinton, the former secretary of state, also campaigned here Tuesday, but held smaller events and did not try to match Sanders’ barrage of TV and radio ads. Her advisers conceded she was likely to lose in Washington but hoped to walk away with a share of delegates. Her campaign did not comment on the Washington results.
As a caucus state with a comparatively white population, Washington played to Sanders’ strengths in the Democratic race. Clinton has tended to fare better in states with a larger population of African-American voters, who have strongly backed her.
In hundreds of schools, libraries and community centers across the state, neighbors engaged in passionate debates over the merits of Clinton versus Sanders.
A few minutes before the end of a Seattle caucus at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, a small crowd gathered around two undecided voters, Annie Kunkel and Hana Peoples, each of whom had the power to break a 21-21 tie in one precinct.
“I hear your argument about Hillary being a woman,” Kunkel told a woman trying to sway her. “My whole life I’ve waited for that opportunity.”
At the last second, though, Kunkel cast her vote for Sanders. Just as President Obama had made people believe in hope, even if he couldn’t accomplish all he wanted, Sanders was now making people believe that “what’s in your heart matters,” she said.
Peoples, in contrast, could not be moved in any direction. A 22-year-old student at the University of Washington, she said she wasn’t convinced either candidate was looking out for students of color.
“Even at this caucus, not a lot of people look like me,” said Peoples, who is of African-American and Japanese descent.
While the caucus was located in the racially diverse but gentrifying Rainier Valley, most of those who turned out were white.
At Edmonds-Woodway High School in Snohomish County, Marian Squibb, 90, was the first caucusgoer to show up. She parked her car at 8 a.m. after a short drive from her retirement home.
“My husband and I always voted Republican,” she said. “This is my first time ever (caucusing as a Democrat).”
Squibb, who was leaning toward Sanders, said her adult children are Democrats and were surprised when they heard she’d be turning blue for the weekend.
“I’ve been getting a little concerned about religion in politics on the Republican side,” she said. “And I don’t care for the Republican candidates this time around. Trump, he’s the worst. His language, he shouldn’t be using it.”
Squibb wore a special T-shirt for her first brush with the Democratic Party. It read, “I’m going on an adventure.”
Still solid for Clinton
The Sanders triumph went against the advice of Washington’s top elected Democrats, who largely backed Clinton. From Bainbridge Island, Gov. Jay Inslee posted a “selfie” on Facebook of him and his wife, Trudi, who both caucused for Clinton.
“We have two great candidates, but I was proud to caucus for Hillary Clinton today … It was energizing to see so many Democrats passionate and engaged in electing a Democrat this November and beating Donald Trump,” Inslee wrote.
Inslee is one of the state’s 17 unpledged “superdelegates,” who are allowed to vote for the candidate of their choice at the Democratic National Convention.
A majority of the superdelegates have said they back Clinton, including Inslee, U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and all six Democrats in the state’s U.S. House delegation.
But an online petition launched by Sanders backers called on those officials to heed the caucus results and commit to supporting Sanders instead of Clinton.
Jaxon Ravens, chair of the state Democratic Party, downplayed the superdelegate controversy. He said such delegates, including himself, do not have to commit to vote either way until the national convention in July.
At that point, he predicted superdelegates will coalesce behind whichever candidate has locked up the nomination.
The state Republican Party, however, sought to rain on the Democrats’ parade, tweeting “Huge rift in Democrat Party. Major split threatens the Old Guard. Democrats in trouble in November.”
Facing a brutally divisive race in their own party, Washington Republicans will pick their choice for a presidential nominee based on the state’s presidential primary on May 24.
A surge for Sanders
Turnout at many caucus locations Saturday was driven by the legions of Sanders fans drawn to his calls to move the U.S. toward a European style of democratic socialism, with guaranteed health care, free college tuition and expanded Social Security benefits.
At the Redmond Town Center, organizers with the 48th Legislative District Democrats had expected 200 people to caucus. Then 400 preregistered. And on Saturday morning 700 people showed up.
In a corner of the center’s patio, a passionate debate raged over the two candidates among caucusgoers in Precinct 2449.
“When I hear Bernie talking, he sounds like Obama eight years ago,” one man said. “But there’s still something in me — I’m torn. Clinton has had these posts, like secretary of state. In the end, we’ve got a good problem. The Republicans have a terrible problem. They have two crazy people.”
Elsewhere at the Redmond caucus, Marcus Jenkins, 54, said he’s supporting Clinton.
“I feel, obviously, she’s been through the cycle before … And she’s the best shot of not having a President Trump,” he added.
In Shelton, Mason County, several members of the Squaxin Island Tribe caucused for Sanders.
Joshua Whitener, a 29-year-old member of the tribe, said that while Clinton has met with tribal leaders in the area, Sanders has been more vocal about issues important to Native Americans.
“He has spoken from the beginning, like at his rallies with everyone there, about our issues and about how we’re underrepresented,” said Whitener, who works as a database manager for the tribe. “He’s like really vocal about it.”
Saturday’s caucuses were the first step in picking the state’s 101 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention. The meetings were to elect more than 27,000 delegates, proportionally allocated to Sanders and Clinton based on precinct results.
Those delegates will move on to county conventions and legislative district caucuses, where a smaller group will advance to the congressional district caucuses at the end of May. That’s when 67 delegates will be elected to the national convention.
The following month, the remaining 34 delegates to the convention will be chosen and bound based on the ratio of support determined at the May 21 congressional district caucuses.