Washington Democrats Brace for Record Turnout Washington state Democrats are holding a presidential preference caucus Saturday that's expected to draw more than twice as many participants as past contests. Interest has skyrocketed as coverage of Super Tuesday dominated the media, and both campaigns find themselves overwhelmed.
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Washington Democrats Brace for Record Turnout

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Washington Democrats Brace for Record Turnout

Washington Democrats Brace for Record Turnout

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The tight Democratic race for the White House now moves on to contest this Saturday in Nebraska, Louisiana and Washington State. The biggest prize is Washington.

As Martin Kaste reports from Seattle, the campaigns are scrambling to master a caucus system that wasn't expected to be a big factor in the nominating process.

MARTIN KASTE: In Washington State, the Democratic campaign is gone from nearly invisible to frenetic practically over night.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Mr. CHRIS CAMPBELL(ph) (Staffer, Hillary Clinton's Campaign): Don't be shy. Give them to everybody.

KASTE: Clinton staffer Chris Campbell is handing out flyers by the fistful to Clinton supporters. But these people want more. They tell him that if they're going to phase down the Obama movement here in Seattle's east side suburbs, they need more lawn signs and more buttons.

Unidentified Woman#1: No buttons sometimes.

Mr. CAMPBELL: Buttons? Oh, yeah. I don't know about buttons. I don't think - there's some available on the last night, but I think after February 5th, they're all blown out.

KASTE: Campbell is one of the 22 staffers who parachuted into the state less than a week ago. Before that, the Clinton effort here was all volunteer. There wasn't even an office. But now that the candidates have come out of Super Tuesday neck and neck, Washington State has taken on an unaccustomed importance.

Jim Camber(ph) is a veteran Democratic organizer here, now working with Clinton.

Mr. JIM CAMBER (Democratic organizer, Clinton Campaign): This changes everything and we are in a new dynamic, and so we're just doing our best and prepare ourselves for it. I doubt we will be fully prepared in all areas. Some places, it will go just fine. Some places, it will be overwhelming.

KASTE: Both the campaigns are scrambling to teach their supporters the mechanics of the 6,500 precinct caucuses that will be held on Saturday afternoon. It's still those local meetings in schools and church basements where the party will hold a vote on how to divvy up the states delegates between Clinton and Obama.

Unidentified Woman#2: Engaging people at the personal level.

Unidentified Woman#3: Making them to emotionally wanting to go there.

Unidentified Woman#2: All right?

KASTE: These Clinton supporters are standing in a circle after their training session practicing the speeches they might give at the caucus to try to sway people to their side. The trainer tells them not to go negative, but the women here - and most of them are women - are genuinely angry about Obama's success.

After the meeting, Beth Kwali(ph) and Ann Coglin(ph) vent their frustration over what they see as the subtle sexism in this race.

Ms. BETH KWALI: It wasn't Barack, it would be someone else who would be fighting Hillary for this nomination.

Ms. ANN COGLIN: Who would be a male.

Ms. KWALI: Who would be a male.

Ms. COGLIN: There are many, many flights that go by - Mrs. Clinton instead of Senator Clinton.

KASTE: Washington State is used to having women in high places. The two U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray have already endorsed Clinton. But the Governor Christine Gregoire has not yet picked her candidate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KASTE: And Obama has plenty of his own women supporters here, especially in Seattle where younger women are coming out for him in big numbers. Women like Jennifer Lao(ph).

Ms. JENNIFER LAO: What I really like about him is that he doesn't just say that he's going to change things for us. He says that he's going to help us to change things for ourselves.

KASTE: Lao says she was never very active in politics before. But now she's sitting in a public library basement at an Obama caucus training session, learning how to be a precinct captain.

Obama supporters here skew young. So young, in fact, that the trainer, Nathan Williams(ph) worries that some of the teens and 20-somethings might wonder into the caucus meetings too late and get shut out.

Mr. NATHAN WILLIAMS (Trainer, Obama Campaign): They could try to start the caucus early and thereby likely anyone rolling in late is more likely to be an Obama supporter. It's the nature of our supporters. So ladies, get out of bed early.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILLIAMS: You know, and that's just the nature of young people.

KASTE: Obama has been leading in the few polls that have been done here to date and he's been raising more money by about 2-1. But if he dominates the caucuses, the fight might not be over on Saturday. Washington State is also holding a nonbinding primary vote 10 days later, on February 19th.

Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed is a big proponent of the primary because more people participate. And he says that even though it's none binding, the national media will pay attention.

Secretary SAM REED (Washington Secretary of State): When the people speak, I think, your editors are going to respond and see that the people, you know, think about these presidential candidates.

KASTE: There's no doubt that the delegates will be allocated by the caucuses this Saturday where party officials expect to double the old record of about 100,000 participants.

Even so, if the national delegate count stays as tight as it has been, one of the campaigns might be tempted to show a preference for those primary results.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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