Burning for Bernie: Democrats overwhelmingly side with Sanders for president

To some, he’s a visionary, a champion of the people who will save entire generations from student debt. To others, he’s an unrealistic and unproven dream, a vote to nowhere.

Clinton resident Natasha Burkle hands in her vote for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic caucuses at South Whidbey High School Saturday.

To some, he’s a visionary, a champion of the people who will save entire generations from student debt. To others, he’s an unrealistic and unproven dream, a vote to nowhere.

No matter how different Democrats view U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a majority in Washington and in Island County made it clear this past weekend that they want him to be the country’s next president. Sanders claimed a sweeping and decisive victory Saturday over rival Hillary Clinton during the presidential caucuses in Island County and across the state.

Sanders secured 72.7 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 27.1 percent. He also won victories in Alaska, 81.6 percent, and Hawaii, 69.8 percent.

“These are huge wins,” said Art Huffine, chairman of the Island County Democrats. “Winning over 70 percent, if that transpires across the West Coast that will be a significant thing.”

Whatever the future holds, Sanders won big in Island County. According to numbers released by the Island County Democrats Saturday afternoon, Sanders took home 219 delegates to Clinton’s 97 delegates. Sanders won by a decisive margin in each of the four caucus locations: South Whidbey, Coupeville, Oak Harbor and Camano Island.

Broken down, Sanders claimed 74 delegates on South Whidbey to Clinton’s 33; 32 delegates in Coupeville to Clinton’s 14, 72 delegates in Oak Harbor to Clinton’s 21, and 41 delegates on Camano to Clinton’s 29. That’s not, however, the number of delegates who will attend the state convention this summer. Those chosen Saturday will reconvene twice in May, once for the state’s 10th Legislative District and later for the Second Congressional District, to reduce the number. Once there, the number will be reduced further to just seven delegates — four men, three women — who will attend the national convention and represent the Second Congressional District, Huffine said.

Of the four county caucus locations, South Whidbey had the largest turnout by far with 1,547 participants, just shy of half of the 3,360 total. The event began at 10 a.m., but some caucus participants were a bit late due to the crowd; cars were parked  on both sides of Maxwelton Road past the light on Highway 525.

The event was so big that it was actually two caucuses. The 11 precincts were divided in half, with each meeting in different parts of the school. Some precincts even met outside for lack of space.

Carolyn Tamler, an area coordinator, said she believed it was record turnout and topped the masses that attended the 2008 caucuses when President Barak Obama faced off against Clinton. That prediction proved true by about 800 people. Attendance at the 2008 caucuses was 2,560.

She also noted that majority support was clearly for the Vermont senator rather than the former secretary of state.

“This is Bernie land,” she said.

Among those in Sanders’ corner were Levi and Natasha Burkle. Their first caucus, the Clinton residents said they agree with his stance of moving away from fossil fuels, his goals for free higher education, equality and human rights.

“He’s just a man of the people,” Natasha Burkle, 41.

Levi Burkle, 38, said he was also swayed by the senator’s character.

“I’ve never felt that integrity; he’s just honest,” he said. “I’ve tried to find dirt on him and I can’t. He’s the real deal.”

The caucuses were also a first for Grace Lee, 18. And like the Burkles, she was all about Sanders. Wearing a hat covered with political buttons, she said she likes many of Sanders’ positions but free college in particular.

“I want an education and I’m terrified of student debt,” Lee said.

The caucuses weren’t without Clinton supporters, however, some of whom included prominent party and community leaders, such as Whidbey General Hospital Commissioner Grethe Cammermeyer and former Langley City Councilman Jim Sundberg.

Sundberg said his support for Clinton could be chalked up to the simple reason that she delivers on her values; she has a record of working for women’s rights around the world and health insurance for children, for example. She also has also experience in foreign policy as a former secretary of state.

“These are all things Bernie can’t say,” he said.

Fellow Democrat and Langley resident Paul Goldfinger said he admires some of Sanders’ views and goals but that he lacks the necessary backing to win the party nomination.

“While I like a number of positions Bernie has, I’m a pragmatist,” Goldfinger said.

Before Saturday’s caucus results were released, he said the senator would need at least two-thirds of the remaining delegates to win the nomination. That’s not going to happen, he said, so he wanted to see the contest over as soon as possible so the focus can be on keeping a Democrat in the White House.

“I don’t doubt Bernie’s going to win locally,” Goldfinger said. “He may win Washington, but he’s not going to win two to one.”

Huffine said in a later interview that Saturday’s caucus results have left him less certain about an inevitable Clinton nomination. If Sanders continues to win with similar margins as he did in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii, a contested convention could become a reality.

“The big question is whether he’ll do that in New York and California,” he said. “Those are the two biggest states left, and will be very telling.”


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