High Turnout, High Spirits at Idaho’s Largest Caucus

BOISE, Idaho -- Super Tuesday didn’t deliver the string of decisive victories candidate Mitt Romney surely hoped for. But here in Idaho, there was no contest. Romney took more than 60 percent of the vote. He far outpaced Ron Paul, who finished second. Like Romney’s Idaho victory, the state’s first ever Republican caucus appears to have gone off without a hitch. Molly Messick has this view of how the day unfolded at the largest caucus, in Ada County.

Boise businessman G.C. Richards played it safe. He arrived at the doors of Taco Bell Arena a full four hours before voting was scheduled to begin. He wasn’t first in line, but he was close.

Richards): "Ah, number four or five, I think!"

He said the economy was the key issue for him, and he had no doubts about how he’d vote.

Richards: "That’d be Romney! I think the business community is going to rally behind him."

Romney did take the Idaho caucus in the end, securing all of the state’s 32 delegates. But as the doors opened and voters filed in, every candidate had supporters in our admittedly informal poll.

Varous: "Who are you here supporting today? Romney. Romney! Ron Paul. Rick Santorum! Gingrich. Gingrich. I’m undecided!"

As for how this whole caucusing thing would work – some voters weren’t quite sure. I asked George Edes, a Santorum supporter, if he knew what to expect.

Edes: "No! But I’m going to find out!"

Like Edes, most said they were excited to take part. But for Romney fan Scott Turlington, Idaho’s first Republican caucus no reason for good cheer.

Turlington: "I think it’s crazy!"

Turlington’s thoughts were with people who couldn’t attend. A caucus, he said, just isn’t as inclusive as a primary, because it’s time consuming, and there’s no absentee voting.

Turlington: "They’re excluding people in the military. They’re excluding people who can’t get out and vote, and they’re trying to tunnel everyone who would typically be dispersed to polling throughout the entire county into one location."

Inside the arena, voters settled in for the long haul. Santorum supporter Sabrah Rolfe came with a friend, and a craft project.

Rolfe: "It’s a long night. I’m a person that has to have something to do. So I’m going to knit and I’m going to listen!"

She’s working on a scarf for her daughter. It’s blue.

Rolfe: "It’s going to have a little hood on it with a pompom!"

She was right to come prepared. After all, a great deal of caucusing is waiting. And waiting.

Little by little, the arena filled. By the time the doors closed, more than 9,000 people had found their way in. As voting got underway, Chairman of the Ada County Republican Presidential Caucus Committee Dawn Hatch said yes, it seemed like it was all going pretty well – even if attendance didn’t quite match her high hopes.

Hatch: "I wanted 10,000. I’ve been talking about 10,000. People told me, 'Ehh, you’ll be lucky to get 4-5,000, you know?'"

Based on early numbers, a more impartial watcher – political scientist Jim Weatherby – judged turnout to be strong in several key Idaho counties, including Ada. The surprise of the night, he said, came in the results.

Weatherby: "This was a bad night for Ron Paul."

Paul put his chips on caucus states, but came up empty. In Idaho, he earned less of the vote last night than he did in 2008.

Weatherby: "Ron Paul needs a victory, and from the results I’ve seen so far, he didn’t run very strongly in a number of the counties, and Mitt Romney has won overwhelmingly in Idaho."

In Ada County, Romney had sealed it by the end of the first round. By that time, it was 10:00, six hours after the doors had opened. As people stood from their seats and began to leave, voter Richard Shepherd gave thanks for a night that ended earlier than some expected.

Shepherd: "I was very pleased we didn’t have to wait for a second vote!"

Pleased, also, because his candidate won.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network