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Political Partisans Prepare For Local Party Caucuses

Democrats to met Feb. 7, Republicans on March 9

With so much attention focused on Monday night's Democratic Party caucuses in Iowa, local partisans are hoping interest in Washington's party caucus will spike here as well.

At 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7, voters who identify themselves as Democrats will meet at fire halls, churches, schools, and libraries all across the state.

In White Salmon, members of the Klickitat County Democratic Party will caucus at the Mt. Adams Grange Hall.

Depending on how the results from Monday's Iowa caucuses and the Feb. 3 primary in New Hampshire play out, Washington Democrats will either be ratifying a consensus choice or helping the party filter out the also-rans and choose which candidate it will turn to as its presidential nominee in 2004.

White Salmon's Kathy Thomas, a precinct committee officer for the Democratic Party, said the caucuses are important for a number of reasons.

"At the meetings, we will note our choices for candidates for president, allocate and elect delegates to the county conventions, discuss political issues, and determine ways to build and strengthen the organization for the campaign ahead," Thomas explained.

This year, the process will be much different from what transpired in 2000. Four years ago, all the state's voters -- whether Republican, Democrat, or independent -- could cast ballots in the state's blanket primary election. This time around, however, the Washington Legislature decided not to hold a presidential preference primary due to the price tag in a state facing severe budget constraints.

"It is unfortunate there will not be a presidential primary in this state, but there will be an opportunity for Democrats to have a direct voice in determining who the Democratic presidential nominee will be," Thomas said. "Anyone who is a Democrat should make it a point to be at the Grange Hall."

The Washington primary has been a so-called "beauty contest," meaning the popular vote did not determine how nominating delegates would be selected. The delegate selection process was handled via party caucuses.

In 2000, Al Gore won 65.3 percent of the votes in the open primary, with competing Democrat Bill Bradley getting 34.2 percent. By contrast, Gore won the caucuses 70.8 percent to Bradley's 29.2 percent.

On the Republican side in 2000, George Bush had 48.3 percent of the votes in the primary, while his main Republican rival, John McCain, had 48.0 percent. The results in the Republican caucuses, however, had Bush with 81 percent, and McCain with just 13 percent.

This year, county Republicans plan to hold their party caucuses on March 9, a Tuesday. The location and time of the meeting in the White Salmon area has not yet been set.

Laura Cheney, chair of the Klickitat County Republican Party, explained that the local caucuses elect delegates to the county convention, the county convention elects state delegates, and the state elects delegates to go the national party convention, which will be in New York City this year.

Cheney added that she has kept an eye on the highly-contested race on the Democratic side to see who will emerge to challenge President George W. Bush.

"I have been watching, and it has been interesting," she said. "It's an open field for the Democrats, and we'll just have to wait and see what happens and go from there."

Unlike the situation on the Democratic Party side, President Bush faces virtually no opposition within his party.

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