As P.J. O'Rourke might say, the Republican Party Reptiles were out tonight. You could tell something was up right away by the traffic jam that was forming outside of Highview Middle School. The cafeteria had been set with about 350 chairs, which were already full when I arrived at 6:50. The Highview parking lot was filled and the side streets around the school were jammed with cars. The people were coming, and kept coming, and kept coming.
Tony Bennett, the Ramsey County commissioner (not a singer as far as I know) surveyed the scene with eyes as big as saucers. He had not seen anything like this crowd before in 30 years of caucuses. The Arden Hills precinct sections were jammed with students from Bethel University, who seemed to be split down the middle between Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee supporters based on the signs and stickers they wore. I looked for a chair in my precinct section and they were all gone. So I stood and watched, as the people kept coming and coming, filing in a steady stream and milling around in the entryway.
Classrooms had been set up for the precinct meetings, but it quickly became evident that the classrooms were not big enough to hold the throngs who had arrived. My precinct was moved from a classroom to a corner of the South Gym, where the precinct leader tried to hold court over the clatter of basketball and the squeaking of sneakers from a basketball practice in the adjoining north gym. We counted off to find out our total number of attendees; 112 citizens from the precinct were there. We elected a young man from Bethel to be the new precinct chair, and another gentleman who had his toddler daughter in tow as vice chairman.
It was time for the straw poll. Ballots were passed out and tabulated as quickly as possible. As the results were tallied, the highly visible Paul supporters craned in to see the results. They were disappointed. While McCain may be having a big Super Tuesday elsewhere, he got no love from New Brighton Precinct 1. The results:
Romney 51 votes
Huckabee 26 votes
Paul 18 votes
McCain 17 votes
Keyes 0 votes
Based on the early results, it appears that Romney was winning elsewhere in Minnesota as well. While Senator Straight Talk may get forced down our throats, it's becoming increasingly clear that he has a lot of work to do among typical Republican voters, at least in my precinct.
Then it was time to select delegates for the BPOU convention. We needed 20 delegates and, eventually, 20 people stepped forward, including your trusty blogger. I would guess that if 18 people voted for Ron Paul in our precinct, that half of the delegates who volunteered for the BPOU were Paul supporters. I will say this for Paul - he may not have many supporters, but the ones he has are really fervent in their support.
We then spent a half hour making suggestions for improving the party platform. About 10 resolutions were made; it turned out that 8 of them were already covered in the platform, including my suggestion to repeal McCain-Feingold. Note to self: next time, get a copy of the platform before you go to the caucus.
While it's always dangerous to draw conclusions from such a small sampling, a few things are clear:
- Despite what you might read in the public prints, Republicans are not dispirited in the least. The people I met today were hopeful and well-adjusted. They understood the issues and were not complacent or disgusted with the choices on offer. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the building.
- Kate Knuth, the callow, shallow perpetual graduate student DFLer who managed to sneak into representing 50B last time around, is going to have her hands full. There are three potential challengers who should be able to make a pretty compelling case for their respective candidacies. Based on my first impression, I would support Gina Bauman, who is currently one of the voices of reason on the New Brighton City Council. But I'll listen to the others at the BPOU. More to say on this anon.
- If McCain is the eventual nominee, he's going to have a lot of trouble with the rank and file. Besides finishing last among the actual candidates (Keyes doesn't count), when I spoke on behalf of repealing McCain-Feingold there was a lot of enthusiasm for the notion. The people in this room understood that this particular reform has actually hurt political discourse in this country, especially given the influence of people like George Soros who funnel millions into the process while hiding behind a miasma of front organizations. If McCain is the nominee, will I support him? I suppose I'll have to. But he won't benefit from the enthusiasm that was in the room I was in tonight unless he starts to make amends, and quickly.