Bernie Sanders soundly defeated Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s Idaho Democratic caucus, winning across the state by margins as high as 4-1 in a turnout that easily surpassed the previous record year of 2008.
Statewide results gave Sanders 18,640 votes, or 78 percent, to Clinton’s 5,065 votes, 21 percent.
The enormous turnout delayed the start of the caucus by more than two hours in Boise, where Ada County Democrats gathered. Final results were reported at 12:20 a.m, with Sanders winning approximately 80 percent of the more than 9,000 votes cast.
“It’s official: This is the largest caucus in the history of the United States,” Boise City Council member Lauren McLean, who presided at the Boise caucus, said just after 9 p.m, adding that the line was “down to one block.” Earlier in the night it had stretched more than four, with waits of three hours to enter.
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The Idaho Democratic caucus in Boise got started more than two hours late Tuesday night, overwhelmed by crowds that stretched from the Boise Centre across The Grove and down Main to 13th Street. The first ballot results weren't in until about 11:30 p.m.
Turnout far exceeded expectations, stretching party volunteers working to process attendees as they entered according to which candidate they supported. Some 10,000 signed up to ahead of time, party officials said, but a few thousand more just showed up, filling both the Centre and adjacent Centurylink Arena.
“A huge chunk of those reservations came in today and yesterday. We were caught off guard, with too little time to adjust,” said Dean Ferguson, the state party’s communications director.
A big turnout that several caucus chairmen credited to enthusiasm for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was seen across the state, with lines reported in Nampa and elsewhere.
“I think it’s the ‘Sanders effect,’ ” said Gail Chumbley, caucus chairman in Boise County where more than the 100 pre-registered people showed up to caucus at Garden Valley High School, giving Sanders two-to-one support. “He has galvanized voters all over the country.”
Except for Ada County, Ferguson said, all other Idaho caucuses were underway by 9 p.m. Despite the lines and delays, he said, “People are in a really good mood.”
And it seemed to be true. In the Boise Centre, families with small children stretched out on the floor, kids playing and, as the evening wore on, sleeping on the floor.
“Thank you to everyone who waited in line, and I wanted to let you know we waited for you,” McLean said as the caucus got underway finally about 9:15 p.m.
Despite a brisk, chill wind, people who had waited in line three and four hours were in high spirits. The long wait was closely chronicled on social media. One person tweeted that the turnout was “insane.”
“I don’t think we can get in some (of the) peeps down here!!” said the tweet
Tim and Brooke Huntsman stood in line for two hours with their daughter Vienna, 3, to vote for Bernie Sanders.
“Bernie Sanders is the first politician I’ve ever been excited about,” said Brooke Huntsman.
Meagan Moering and her friend Jess McAfferty had been in line for an hour and a half and still had a ways to go before they got into the Boise Centre. Both planned to support Hillary Clinton. “I think she is the most prepared,” Moering said. “And I think she’s got the pantsuits for eight years.”
Katie Vant and Christopher Berryman, Sanders supporters from Boise, didn’t get inside until after 8:15 p.m., spending more than three hours in line. “It’s worth the wait,” said Vant.
“We didn’t expect it to snake all the way around,” said Berryman, “but it was awesome to see how long it was.”
As the venues filled up, the numbers overwhelmingly favored Bernie Sanders, whose supporters were far more boisterous than Clinton’s. As Boise Mayor David Bieter noted when he rose to speak on behalf of Clinton, there were few people sitting in the undecided section.
Bieter started out by telling everyone to hug the person sitting next to them.
“We’re all Democrats,” he said. Even though the time Idaho’s Democratic caucuses were supposed to begin at 7 p.m., lines stretched for blocks away from the Boise Centre caucus site, across The Grove and down Main to 13th Street.
About 7 p.m. McLean told people in the Boise Centre that officials would wait to shut the doors so more people could come in. Officials assured people in line they could participate, and gave them ballots so they could be sure to have a say, “even if they’re three blocks away,” said party communications director Dean Ferguson.
“Astounding turnout for Bernie Sanders!” said Daniel Randall, who was participating in the Skyline High School gym in Idaho Falls and noted full bleachers for Sanders supporters compared to relatively sparse bleachers for Clinton. Sanders spoke to more than 3,000 supporters in the same gym on Friday.
UNDECIDED? NOT MANY
There were few people in the undecided section at the Boise Centre about 6:30 p.m. The Crawfords of Meridian, Clinton supporters, were sitting there with friends.
“She has the depth and breadth of experience, not only on the Democratic side, but in the entire race. No other candidate can even come close,” said Marcus Crawford of the candidate. “Bernie’s awesome, too. I love Bernie. I love Hillary more.”
Lyle Carlile of Meridian, with his wfe, Cathy, and son, high school senior Briar, were “sort of” undecided.
“We really wanted to experience the undecided area,” Lyle said. “We know where we want to go but we wanted to experience this side.”
“I’m leaning towards Hillary but I kinda came in here truly undecided,” said Briar, who attends Rocky Mountain Hifh School. “I kinda wanted to hear some stuff from Bernie supporters, just get a kind of overall perspective from both sides.”
FOR SANDERS IN BOISE
Jacob Mobley and Theresa Thomas, boyfriend and girlfriend from Kuna, were in the front row of the Sanders section. He works in a Subway and she works in a car wash.
“I just know that he really needs us,” Jacob said. “He’s kind of the underdog with Hillary, so every vote counts.”
“I like how he always says us, not him, and he’s gonna solve everything,” said Theresa. “He knows that as a country we all have to work together or nothing’s going to happen.”
Sanders, the senator from Vermont, spoke at a rally at Boise State University on Monday. About 7,000 people turned out for his 70-minute speech.
In Boise, former U.S. Attorney for Idaho Betty Richardson said she wrestled with her decision before coming down on the side of Clinton.
“It was a very, very difficult, and I just came to this decision in the last day,” Richardson said, “but I decided Hillary is ready to be president and to get things done.”
BIG CROWD IN CANYON COUNTY
A long line of caucus-goers snaked around the perimeter of the caucus site at Sage Valley Middle School in Nampa.
Among the crowd was Air Force and Army veteran Leon Hopp from Nampa, attending his first caucus. The lifelong Republican began the political season with a Ben Carson bumper sticker on his car, but has now changed his party affiliation and came on Tuesday to support Sanders.
“We need to make a change,” said Hopp. “For the last seven years we’ve been in a stalemate with nothing getting done, even though we’ve seen collapsing infrastructure, our highways, railways, the water crisis in Flint.”
Hopp now favors Sanders because of his strong environmental stances, while admitting that his vote for Sanders is in many ways a vote against Clinton as much as it is pro-Sanders. Why?
“In one word? Bengazi,” said Hopp.
He’s no fan of Donald Trump.
“The only good thing about him is that he’s not part of the political establishment,” said Hopp.
Jimmie Tinsley of Caldwell recently moved back to Idaho after living in the Philippines.
“I really love Bernie Sanders,” said Tinsley, who has been working as a substitute teacher in local school districts where lots of students live in economically challenged homes.
He approves of Sanders’ stands supporting free tuition and universal healthcare.
“As he has said, it’s OK to want improvements, even if you don’t get them right away,” said Tinsley.
He wasn’t surprised at the big turnout of caucus-goers on Tuesday and expects the county to become more Democratic “as all the disenfranchised kids growing up in Canyon County now become old enough to vote.”
BOISE COUNTY: LOTS OF VOLUNTEERS
“We’re going to have a lot of people literally coming out of the woods to state their positions,” said the retired teacher, who taught AP history at Eagle High School.
Chumbley said she had a dozen volunteers helping with the caucus.
Caucusing went relatively quickly, and the 112 Democrats took just two ballots to persuade the 16 undecided voters. Final tally: 76 for Sanders and 36 for Clinton, one delegate each.
Paul Drury, 58, a 15-year Boise County resident, was solidly for Sanders. He’s concerned about income inequality and corruption on Wall Street, and opposed to Clinton: “She’s too establishment.”
Carmen Womack, 23, a stay-at-home mother with a 2-year-old, also said she couldn’t vote for Clinton.
“I feel she’s a compulsive liar. I don’t trust her at all,” Womack said.
But arborist Tracy Koslosky, 52, cast her lot with Clinton. “The most qualified — Republican or Democrat,” she said.