We aren't used to this here in Washington State.
Oh sure, we've got Microsoft, Starbucks, and Boeing — and we gave the world the rock and roll phenomenon known as grunge. But for all of Seattle's rock star luster and geek chic, it gets a little lonely up in our corner of America sometimes when it comes to politics. That all changed this weekend.
With the Democratic race for delegates in particular about as close as it gets, the state party caucuses this weekend got the attention of all three of the remaining major candidates for president. Hillary Clinton arrived in town on Thursday for rallys in Seattle and Tacoma and a town hall meeting in Spokane. John McCain spoke before a crowd of supporters at Seattle's downtown Westin Hotel on Friday night.
But not a one of them received the rock star sort of reception that Barack Obama did here. So I guess it's now official. Obamamania has claimed the Pacific Northwest. In Seattle, Clinton's appearance drew a crowd of about 5,000 supporters, while McCain drew about 500 at the Westin.
Obama by contrast, packed 18,000 screaming fans — and that is literally the most accurate description I can muster — into Seattle's Key Arena on Friday. Another 3,000 had to be turned away, although Obama also addressed that group outside with a megaphone on his way into the building.
For about four hours on a windy Seattle afternoon (Obama's speech was delivered two hours late), it was sheer bedlam in Seattle's downtown Queen Anne neighborhood. The event stopped traffic for hours, and drew the sort of crowd normally reserved for touring rock bands like U2, and that the hometown NBA team the Supersonics hasn't seen in years.
Inside the Key, the audience not only behaved like the sort of frenzied crowd you'd see at a rock concert — it also looked a lot like one. Although the crowd makeup was a fairly broad mix of ethnicities, there was no mistaking the age factor here. The Obama supporters who jammed the Key were overwhelmingly young. They were also really loud, roaring their approval when Washington State governor Christine Gregoire first announced her endorsement for Obama, and then introduced the man himself. The reception was pure rock star all the way.
At Saturday's Democratic precinct caucuses — at least the one I attended — the Obama presence was no less overwhelming. Obama signs, buttons, and banners were everywhere in the packed high school auditorium. In my precinct, the numbers also reflected this. Of the 66 of us there, 45 were Obama supporters to Hillary Clinton's 15, while 5 were uncommitted on the first ballot. By the time of the second ballot, both Hillary and Obama picked up 2 each of the uncommitteds.
This seems to reflect the statewide trend in Washington, where as I write this Obama is winning the state by a two to one margin over Clinton. In our precinct, we are sending four Obama delegates (including myself) and two Clinton delegates to the District caucus in April.
The whole caucus system can itself be a little chaotic. With the huge turnout on Saturday, our own meeting was a fairly crazy affair with most of us flying by the skin of our teeth. Our group often found itself competing for volume with the various other precincts crowded into the high school auditorium. For at least the first several minutes, there was also the little problem that none of us really knew what we were doing.
The fact that support was divided between just two candidates however made the speeches, debates and such go much easier.
Four years ago when I attended my last precinct caucus, support was divided between two camps — the John Kerry folks and everybody else. Convincing the anti-Kerry contingent — supporting everyone from Edwards to Al Sharpton — to band together in an uncommitted block just to guarantee some of us would get to the District caucus was challenging to say the least. The two Kucinich folks were a particularly tough sell. This time around, the five uncommitteds simply asked supporters of Obama and Hillary to make their case. They did so, splitting that vote right down in the middle.
Ain't Democracy grand?
I made my own decision for Obama just this past week, with his "we are the ones we have been waiting for" speech after Super-Tuesday more or less sealing the deal. Truth be told however, I had been leaning towards Obama ever since Edwards threw in the towel.
The whole "Yes We Can" energy, and the way Obama seems to inspire such hope that things actually can be changed by the right guy in Washington has a lot to do with it. The Clinton campaign's attacks on Obama — whether directly or through surrogates — has also been a bit of a turn-off for me. But more than that, I truly believe Obama is the best equipped to defeat the Republicans this fall. Hillary remains far too polarizing a figure in the eyes of too many voters, and is the Republicans best guarantee of uniting to defeat a common enemy.
But there is also an electricity about this whole "Obamamania" movement sweeping the land that is hard not to get caught up in. At least if you believe as passionately as I do that the country is hungry for real change.
I haven't seen a candidate or a movement like this since the days of Robert F. Kennedy back in the sixties — and I was far too young to be a participant back then.
As the Buffalo Springfield sang back in those days, "there's something happening here…"
I'm just happy that this time around, I'm old enough to be a part of it.