For Mark Griswold and self-proclaimed political junkies like him, it's crunchtime. With precinct caucuses this Saturday, Griswold is dialing...

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For Mark Griswold and self-proclaimed political junkies like him, it’s crunchtime.

With precinct caucuses this Saturday, Griswold is dialing in the talk radio shows, pounding the blogs and mining editorial pages to see what’s on voters’ minds and rev up his run for a delegate seat.

What else would you expect from a guy who courted his future wife by taking her to an election-night party in 1996?

“I’m totally jazzed,” said Griswold, 28, a Redmond Republican who hopes to make it all the way to the national convention this summer as a delegate.

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The first step comes this weekend, when neighbors meet all over the state to choose local delegates — 17,000 for the Republicans, and 33,400 for the Democrats.

The delegate pool will be winnowed at successive caucuses and meetings over the coming months to the group each party will send to its national convention this summer. Washington state’s Republicans will send 40 delegates, and the Democrats will send 97.

With a hotly contested nomination at stake in both parties, GOP and Democratic leaders predict big crowds Saturday.

“I am expecting record turnout. I’m expecting at least 125,000 people and frightened at the prospect of maybe 200,000,” said Dwight Pelz, chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Part town meeting and part mini-political convention, the caucuses will be held in schools, fire halls and even people’s homes for freewheeling electioneering and debate, and selection of the first cut of delegates.

The meetings begin at 1 p.m. and will last about two hours.

For the past several weeks, the most motivated voters have been gearing up, with as many as 100 people attending training sessions to practice speeches, learn pointers on debate and negotiation, and get the drill of what to do on caucus day.

Partisan free-for-alls

The process is not for the shy or private: These are partisan free-for-alls in which arm-twisting and in-your-face electioneering is the whole idea.

Uncommitted voters will be wooed.

On the Democratic side, anybody can — and likely will — be invited to switch candidates before the final count of supporters for each candidate is recorded. The more support recruited for a candidate, the more delegates elected for that candidate — and ultimately sent to the national convention.

Rather than counting supporters from among all caucus participants, Republicans gauge the caucus winner by recording who is elected as a delegate and which candidate he or she supports.

Both parties allow uncommitted delegates.

Any registered voter can attend their precinct caucus, participate in the discussion, vote, and even be elected as a delegate or alternate. Just show up and sign in.

For some, the up-close and personal nature of the caucuses is a surprise. While many people these days don’t even leave their house to vote, the precinct caucuses are the one time they are expected by their party to get out and mix it up with neighbors and talk politics.

“I didn’t realize something like this was actually going on, how much it’s like a conversation that could happen in a living room, that you can talk people into coming over to your side,” said Roberta Brown Root, 61, of Seattle, who supports Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“It feels good to me, and there is a little element of scariness to it, too,” she said. “We have been taught that if you don’t want to argue, you don’t talk politics or religion. This is very different. If we are going to make any difference at all, we have to state our beliefs.”

For Republicans, the caucuses allocate about half of delegates ultimately sent to the national convention. The rest are apportioned on the basis of the votes cast in the state’s presidential primary Feb. 19.

The Democrats rely only on the caucuses for apportioning delegates. The primary vote, while providing an indication of support for the candidates, is not a factor in delegate selection.

“What politics is about”

Griswold is penning what he calls a diatribe to deliver to his fellow Young Republicans at their monthly meeting this week to urge them to turn out for the caucuses and support electable candidates.

As for himself, Griswold said he hasn’t made up his mind on who he’ll stand for this Saturday — he’ll be glued to the returns from today’s Super Tuesday primaries to make his decision.

To get a chance to attend the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in September, Griswold will have to get elected as a delegate at four separate caucuses and conventions over the next few months. The time commitment doesn’t faze him. “For someone who cares who the next president of the United States is, that’s not a lot of time,” he said.

Bonnie Beukema of Seattle is rounding up Clinton supporters, to make sure they turn out. And of course she’s amassing a cache of signs, posters and stickers.

“It’s as political as it gets,” she said of the caucuses. “We need to have all of our swag.”

She has been studying Clinton’s position on the issues and practicing her speech for Saturday. She turned out at the Clinton campaign phone banks at a Seattle union hall last week, to help caucus-goers hone their speeches on behalf of the candidate.

This will be her first time participating in the caucuses — and a new kind of interaction for Beukema.

“I live in Belltown, so I don’t talk to my neighbors. This is really grass-roots politics in action: You are talking to your neighbors, giving speeches on the spot, trying to persuade people. To me, it’s what politics is about,” she said.

But the caucuses aren’t for everybody. Take Pastor Joe Fuiten of Cedar Park Church in Bothell, leader of the unofficial campaign for GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in Washington state.

“I don’t like it, it’s complicated and time-consuming, and it’s not efficient, in my opinion,” Fuiten said. “You have to be committed to giving a lot of time as a delegate, and if there is anything a lot of people don’t have it’s time. I would rather just vote and move on with it.”

Still, Danille Turissini, volunteer grass-roots director for the unofficial Huckabee campaign in Washington, said the campaign is stepping up its efforts to make sure Huckabee supporters know about the caucuses, how to participate and where to show up.

The campaign even put together an e-mail tutorial for a process she anticipates few people are familiar with.

“People need that assistance,” Turissini said. “All this is fairly new to me and I do think the straight-up primary was a more simple process.”

The caucuses mean more work for campaign organizers, she said, but they also help build the party base — and even neighborhood ties.

“It has its benefits,” Turissini said. “I like bringing the neighborhood together. I like it when that happens.”

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736