A visit from Ron Paul revved up the Texas congressman’s supporters at today’s 25th Legislative District caucus site, but enthusiasts for all the Republican candidates turned out, almost more than the Puyallup Elks Lodge building could handle.
GOP district leader Don Houghton estimated more than 2,000 people showed up to the district’s precinct caucuses, at one of 10 sites in Pierce County and many more around the state where Republicans gathered to start the process of making Washington’s choice for President Barack Obama’s opponent.
Houghton said it far exceeded his expectations and the 2008 gathering of 430 people.
The crowd heard a quick speech from the libertarian Paul, who decried what he called government overspending, over-regulation and overseas intervention. No more policing the world, he said: “Declare war, win it and come home.”
Paul told me before the speech his message is resonating in Washington and noted there were plenty of Paul stickers in the crowd. “I can’t help but feel good,” Paul said. “Everybody tells me the crowd’s larger than we’ve ever had.”
While other candidates drummed up support in Super Tuesday states, Paul spent the day in Washington, where his campaign is likely the best organized of the four. “We’re trying to be involved in every caucus state,” he said.
Rick Santorum’s state director also spoke, along with officeholders like Pierce County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald and Rep. Hans Zeiger, who touted Friday’s state Senate coup by Republicans as evidence that things are changing in Olympia. The crowd applauded for their senator, Democrat Jim Kastama, when Zeiger told them how Kastama had broken with his party and clinched the GOP’s vote to bring its own budget to the Senate floor. UPDATE: Kastama was not there. (Kind of goes without saying, but readers asked that question.)
Then the caucus-goers broke into groups by precinct, a neighborhood-level designation, and elected delegates to the county conventions, which in turn will choose the delegates to populate the state convention.
It’s hard to say who had the advantage. The precinct group I watched elected everyone who wanted to be a delegate, which was heavily weighted toward Paul supporters. A Santorum supporter I talked to, Ashlyn Arnold, said her precinct sent a majority of Mitt Romney supporters to the county level, with Santorum backers close behind. Those were just two of dozens of results.
Tonight the state party will release the results of a straw poll of the candidates taken from the preferences of all attendees. But the real decision will be made by delegates to the state convention starting May 30.