There were some surprises in Saturday's presidential nominating caucuses in Klickitat County and across the state of Washington. Perhaps the biggest surprise was on the Republican Party side, where U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas won a plurality of the votes in Klickitat County.
Paul, who has been trailing in the Republican Party's race for the presidential nomination, took 36 percent of the vote in the county, finishing ahead of Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is regarded as the "frontrunner" for the party's nomination. McCain had 34 percent of the vote.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee followed with 10 percent of the Republican caucus vote in Klickitat County, and another 18 percent of caucus-goers voted to remain "uncommitted."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who abandoned his bid for the White House last week, did not win any votes in the county caucuses.
According to Laura Cheney, chair of the Klickitat County Republican Party, delegate selection based on the caucus results is still to be determined.
"At the county convention in April, delegates will elect and send eight delegates to the State Republican Convention, where half the delegates to the national convention will be elected," Cheney said. "The other half will be selected using a formula based on the presidential primary results from Feb. 19."
Cheney added that turnout at the local party caucuses was strong.
"We had about a 30 percent greater turnout at caucuses in 2008 compared to 2004," she explained. "I think Republicans are more energized after the caucus."
Republicans gathered in four locations around the county for the party caucuses -- in White Salmon, Alderdale, Goldendale, and Lyle.
Results from the Klickitat County Democratic Party caucuses on Saturday closely mirrored statewide results.
Approximately 460 Democrats gathered at the Pioneer Center in White Salmon and at the Goldendale Middle School for the two-hour caucus process. Most expressed strong support for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who took about 66 percent of the caucus vote. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton had 32 percent of the vote in what has become a two-person contest in the Democratic Party field.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who recently pulled out of the presidential race, had 0.2 percent of the vote in the county, with another two percent opting to remain in the "uncommitted" category. Former Vice President Al Gore, who is not a candidate, was supported by 0.4 percent of the caucus attendees; and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has dropped out of the presidential race, had 0.2 percent.
"Over 400 Democrats participated in lively, respectful, and sometimes passionate discussion in White Salmon and Goldendale," said Julie Larson, chair of the Klickitat County Democratic Party. "It was great to see people of all ages, walks of life, and diversity, including young folks who observed."
Statewide, Democratic caucus participants gave Sen. Obama about 66 percent support, with Sen. Clinton taking 31 percent, and "uncommitted" getting one percent.
Larson pointed out that many party activists complained about the current presidential delegate selection process. The Democrats have a relative handful of caucus voters deciding where all the delegates go, and the upcoming primary voting on Feb. 19 is a "popularity contest" only, with no bearing on the delegate selection.
"Many folks have given feedback about the confusion with the ballots and questions about the caucus process. Some grumbled about the primary ballots not counting for delegates," Larson said. "I summarized the feedback I heard to the state party. Although this was a little messy, many people came out, got engaged and involved, and this will help us as we move forward in our local county to elect some good officials here and nationally."
Dorothy Herman, who participated in the Democratic Party caucus on Saturday, said the current system is confusing and unwieldy.
"There were many resolutions sent to the state Democratic Party suggesting that we go with the primary from now on. The caucus disenfranchises too many people who have to work, and also the elderly," Herman said.
In total, there were about 14,000 citizens who participated in the Republican Party caucuses statewide. For the Democratic Party, about 32,000 participated.
The state of Washington has a total of more than 3.7 million registered voters. To put the caucus results in perspective, those who participated in the statewide caucuses, counting both political parties, represented about 0.012 percent of all the state's voters.