More than 200 Ketchikan Democrats gathered Saturday morning to caucus for their choice for U.S. president. Organizers hadn’t expected that level of interest, and eventually moved the caucus outside – in the pouring rain – because the crowd just didn’t fit inside the IBEW Hall.
Caucus registration started at 9:30 in the morning, and Ketchikan’s IBEW Hall was packed beyond capacity within half an hour, with more people lined up outside in the rain, waiting to sign up.
As soon as local Democrats were registered for the caucus, they were sent to a nearby restaurant to wait. This isn’t the first time that the popularity of Ketchikan’s Democratic caucus caught organizers off guard.
Marty West, remembers the caucus for President Barack Obama’s first presidential run.
“Dawn Allen-Herron and I set up the caucuses and we were going to have it at the New York. We thought 30-40 people,” West said. “We thought, just in case there’s overflow, we checked with the IBEW in case we had a few extra people. Both places were just jammed. More than this. Which was good.”
At 10:45 a.m., the caucus doors closed, and anyone not already in line to register was out of luck.
But then there was the question of how to caucus. There was no way everyone would fit in the hall, even with the registration tables folded up and put away.
They talked about splitting the crowd and holding two indoor caucuses – one at the IBEW and one at the very cooperative nearby restaurant. But, this being Ketchikan, the crowd chose to disregard the rain.
“The people outside came up with a good suggestion to save us some time. We’ll do the fan-out outdoors,” announced district chair Tom Schulz.
People zipped up their hooded rainjackets — a few others even had umbrellas — and everyone headed outside. The number 36 – which indicates House District 36 – hand-written on their pink caucus cards quickly ran in the rain. But, that number didn’t matter. The important number was how many pink cards were raised for each candidate.
From the start, it was clear who the more popular candidate was. The Bernie Sanders group numbered nearly 200, with about 40 gathered together in the Hillary Clinton group. Nobody stood in the spots for Rocky De La Fuente, who also is running as a Democrat; and nobody was “uncommitted.”
Not satisfied with their majority, though, Sanders supporters tried to lure some Clinton folks to their side. The Clinton side stayed firm, though, and nobody crossed over.
After the fan out, people headed back inside to wait for the official numbers. Among them was Fred Athorp. He says he’s never missed a presidential election since he was eligible to vote.
“You had to be 21 to vote when I started, so the first one I voted for was Kennedy,” he said.
Athorp caucused for Bernie Sanders, in hopes, he says, of a political shift toward the left.
“(Barry) Goldwater wanted to move the Republican Party to the right, and even though he didn’t win (in 1964), he succeeded because they’ve been moving to the right ever since,” Athorp said. “I’d like to see Bernie, even if he doesn’t succeed, at least move the party back to the left, because Democrats moved to the right along with the Republicans.”
Athorp was definitely not alone in his support for Sanders. In the entire House District 36 – which includes caucus results from Wrangell and Hydaburg – Sanders ended up with 229 votes to Clinton’s 47. That means 10 district delegates for Sanders, and two for Clinton.
Statewide, too, Sanders won big. According to the Alaska Democrats results, Sanders ended the day with a little more than 80 percent of the votes.
Delegates for both Clinton and Sanders will gather in mid-May for the state Democratic convention in Anchorage. During that event, Alaska’s 16 delegates will be chosen for the national convention, set for late July in Philadelphia.