The 43rd Legislative District Republican caucus was an experience I'll not soon forget.
It hasn't made a great deal of news, but the Paul campaign is soldiering on with its delegate strategy here in the Evergreen State. And at least in Seattle, it's working.
I hadn't answered my phone (which rang about 30 times in the week before the caucus), nor did I go to any "caucus training", because I felt my time commitment to this thing was already a bit much. So, I didn't know about the late alliance that had apparently been forged between the Santorum and Paul campaigns until I arrived Saturday morning, as was handed a copy of the "open convention" slate, and found a few fellow travelers to fill me in on what was going on.
A digression is in order. The delegates to the 43rd there to support Ron Paul can be divided into two groups: those that were part of an organized effort, and those that for lack of a better term, I will call "rouge Ron Paul delegates" (RRPD). RRPD consisted largely of people like myself: under 35 (though typically quite a bit younger than that), from Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the Central District who were the only people who showed up from their precincts on March 3 and thus automatically became delegates. We didn't care to have anything to do with the organized Republican Party. Most of us ignored our phones. (We were still getting robocalls from the Paul campaign, even as the caucus started.) And we found each other by being the only people in the room wearing black and having visible tattoos and/or piercings.
In other words, we were the only people in the room that actually looked like we lived in the 43rd District. Together with the less obvious RRPD, we were easily 1/3rd of the Paul contingent.
The idea of the open slate was simple: it was a mixture of Paul and Santorum supporters, ranked by priority (I assume some horse trading had determined the order.) The Romney campaign had also produced a "unity slate" which, though nominally in coordination with the Gingrich campaign, consisted entirely of Romney supporters, similarly ranked. Because of the way the balloting is done (something like 60 candidates for 14 slots, everyone votes for 14 names, and on the first ballot you only need 50% plus one to win a slot) there is an obvious advantage to bloc voting (hence the slates.) People who don't get at least 10% of the vote are dropped off for subsequent ballots. Such a system often does not produce winners on the first ballot, and several rounds are often required.
After some wrangling about the rules for the day, it was determined that delegate candidates could give 30-second speeches before balloting. The Romney camp (which I should mention included all of the district officers) didn't want this, nor did many of the Santorum supporters. It would later become clear why. You see, for those of us not "in the know", we really had no way of knowing which potential delegates supported which candidate, unless they told us. But once they started making speeches, many--though not all--declared who they were supporting.
The speeches were mostly pointless, boring, and inept. The highlight was when the a Romney supporter--the vice chair of the district and head of the rules committee, who had herself tried to forestall these speeches--proclaimed that if "we don't vote for the unity slate, we're going to send a whole lot of Paul delegates to the state convention." Over half the room erupted in cheers.
I don't think that was the response she was looking for.
However, the real action during the speeches was happening in the audience. Among the RRPD, many of us concluded that we had no intention of voting for Santorum delegates knowingly--we had not been a party to this alliance--and started crossing those that declared themselves for Santorum off the slate, and replacing them with Paul supporters further down the list. When the ballots came out, we voted as a bloc.
On the first ballot, 9 of 14 slots were filled outright. All with Ron Paul supporters. On the second, 3 of 5 were for Paul, one for Santorum, and another an open slate candidate who had not said who they were for (though I have been told is for Paul.)
Romney had been swept. About half the Romney contingent left the room in a huff. Inevitability was starting to look a lot like disappointment and desperation.
It was beautiful.
I don't think it will make a difference in this election. It probably won't even make much of a difference at the state convention--Washington outside the borders of Seattle is a very, very different place. But still, there was something deeply potent about witnessing firsthand the power of a largely unorganized group of people to turn an established order on its ear, playing their game by their own rules, and simply refusing to go along with what is expected.
There is still power in the word "no".