JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders won the Alaska Democratic party’s presidential caucuses by a wide margin Saturday over former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Large crowds and long lines were reported at some caucus sites, including in Juneau, where the caucus got started about 45 minutes behind schedule as people continued to show up.
Some participants were decked out in political regalia - pins and T-shirts proclaiming their candidate of choice - and campaign signs bobbed above heads in the crowd.
Kirsa Hughes-Skandijs said her strong belief in Bernie Sanders as a candidate brought her to her first caucus. The 38-year-old, wearing a black Sanders’ T-shirt to a caucus site in downtown Juneau, said she had never donated to a candidate before Sanders before, either.
“This is the first time I’ve ever felt that kind of belief in a candidate, that they mean what they say and that they are not saying what they think people want to hear,” she said.
Kim Metcalfe, of Juneau, said she supports Clinton. She cited Clinton’s experience and said she has more confidence in Clinton’s ability to govern.
President Barack Obama “did well for himself, considering what he was up against,” Metcalfe said. “I don’t think Bernie could do that. He says everything I believe in, I just don’t think he can govern.”
Clinton and Sanders, the two major candidates in the race, each set up campaign offices in Alaska ahead of Saturday’s caucus. The third choice for caucus-goers Saturday was little-known businessman Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente of California.
The day got off to a rocky start in Anchorage, where dozens of people showed up to have coffee with Sanders’ wife, Jane Sanders, at the Bear Tooth Theater. But she didn’t show up. A campaign spokesman said there was a last minute schedule change.
Those standing in line were told to go the caucus site at Anchorage West High School, where parking attendants were directing drivers to lots that were already filled to capacity.
Daniel Duque was first in line waiting for doors to open at the school so he could caucus for Bernie Sanders. Duque, 35, said the system is broken and Sanders is the only one who will make changes all at once to fix it instead of approaching it incrementally.
But Duque said he’s fine if Clinton winds up being the nominee. The Democratic candidates are far better than the Republican candidates, he said. “That’s comparing Dumpster fires and rainbows,” he said. “It’s completely different.”
Unlike the state GOP’s presidential preference poll held earlier this month, in which Republican voters cast ballots for their presidential pick, state Democrats arranged themselves in groups according to the candidates they support.
A group needed to get support from at least 15 percent of the attendees in a given district or they had to disband. Caucus-goers for candidates meeting that threshold were charged with electing delegates to the party’s state convention in May in proportion to the vote for the candidates.
Those elected to attend will take part in a “fan out” process similar to the caucus process that will decide how 16 of the state’s 20 delegates to the national convention are proportioned. The other four are party leaders free to support whomever they choose. Metcalfe is one of those four.
State Democratic party spokesman Jake Hamburg has called the caucus an example of “grassroots democracy” where neighbors come together to talk about candidates. An advantage to holding the caucuses the same day as Hawaii and Washington state held theirs was getting two extra delegates as part of a Democratic National Committee effort to encourage regional participation, he said.
The largest voting bloc in Alaska doesn’t identify with a political party, and there are nearly twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz edged Donald Trump to win the state GOP preference poll but both were assigned the same number of delegates by the party - 14 - after U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the only other Republican candidate to win delegates, suspended his campaign.
AP reporter Mark Thiessen contributed to this report from Anchorage, Alaska. #CAPPolitics