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Turnout Low But Enthusiasm High at Democratic Caucuses

Health care was a big issue for Mercer Island Democrats who caucused at West Mercer Elementary School on Sunday.

While turnout was low, the enthusiasm for President Barack Obama among Democrats who caucused on Sunday was not.

Read Patch's liveblog of .

Caucus Coordinator Rich Erwin said he wasn't sure how many people to expect at Sunday’s 41st Legislative District Caucus for the North-end of Mercer Island at , and hoped for a turnout somewhere close to the levels seen in 2000 and 2004. Instead, the crowd maxed out at 15, including Irwin.

Attendance this year was a shadow of the 2008 local Democratic Caucus at West Mercer Elementary when over 150 participated, said Mercer Island 0767 Precinct Committee Organizer (PCO) Stan Barnes. Nonetheless, said Barnes, he relished the chance to participate in grassroots democracy.

"This is the way we govern our country," he said. "If you don't participate then you don't get to whine!"

Phil Dong, a Parkwood neighborhood resident and volunteer for Organizing for America, stopped by West Mercer before heading off to the caucus site run by Mercer Island Democrats at . He was busy searching for volunteers for the grassroots political action committee to support Pres. Barack Obama by getting out the vote through phone banking, sign waving, voter drives.

"Anything we can do to help Pres. Obama get re-elected," he said.

The low turnout at the Democratic Caucus contrasted with meeting on March 3 — a Saturday — where Mitt Romney garnered just over half the votes in the local straw poll (the results were: Romney 158, Paul 48, Santorum 39 and Gingrich 19). The Republican turnout was aided by a hotly-contested primary race and no state's newfound status as a caucus-only system this election season.

Erwin cited blamed the warm, sunny weather and convening the caucus on a Sunday — historically the caucus is held on a Saturday — as possible reasons for low attendance.

The drop in participation, however, was not a reflection on the passion for the  Democratic Party candidate President Barack Obama, said participants.

Health care topped the issues of concern in the room, as did the local on the April 17 Special Election ballot.

“Keep your hands off my Medicare,” said Sarah Weinberg, a retired physician who also volunteers with health care advocacy group Health Care for All — Washington.

Weinberg and fellow caucus delegate Nancy Spaeth, a nurse, both signed two resolutions that they hoped would be approved by the King County Democratic Party Convention on April 28-29 and later adopted as part of the state party platform on health care.

One resolution supports a bill that would allow states to modify health exchanges earlier than presently allowed and a second resolution that objects to the privatization of Medicare and Medicaid, which was passed this spring as part of the U.S. House budget and authored primarily by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

"The results of this election won't affect me much, but for my granddaughter, it will make a huge amount of difference," said Weinberg. "She ought to be voting on the ballot, not me."

Although the caucus had hoped to choose delegates to represent the 24 precincts representing the North-end of Mercer Island, the group ended up with fewer than half that in delegates.

Precinct caucuses experienced light attendance throughout the region: Bellevue Patch reported that about 20 people turned out at Enatai Elementary;  Lakewood Patch reported that ”about 50 people are at Clover Park Technical College” in Lakewood; and Woodinville Patch reported that of the “18 precincts here at Leota, more than half have no representation.”

Did you participate in a Democratic Caucus? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, or send a letter to the editor to kendall.watson@patch.com.

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