Snohomish County voters start to tune in to the campaign

As voters in nearly half the country cast their ballots for the next president Tuesday, Snohomish County residents watched with a mixture of interest and indifference, waiting for their turn to vote.

John McCain surged ahead in the Republican contest, with Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama splitting wins in several key states.

“I’ve been glued to it,” said Stacey Dunn, scrolling through Super Tuesday coverage on her laptop and listening to results on TV inside the “parent lounge” at the Jonas Brothers concert in Everett on Tuesday night. “This is the biggest election in our country in the last 25 years.”

Down the street, at The Flying Pig bar, apathy ruled. A television was tuned to early returns, but only one man was watching.

“I’m just kind of spacing on it,” said Dave Olson of Granite Falls.

Bret Coffman of Everett and Andy Essner of Lake Stevens were having a beer together after working at Boeing. Coffman said he put in a 14-hour day.

“I didn’t even know it was Tuesday,” he said.

Saturday is caucus day in Washington.

Democrats who turn out at local caucuses will decide their party’s candidate. The results of the state’s Feb. 19 presidential primary won’t impact the Democratic race.

Republicans are considering both primary election tallies and caucus results when choosing their candidate. They’ll designate about half the delegates based on caucus results and the other half from the primary election tallies.

“The caucus is super important and people need to turn out and get involved,” said Keith Sprankle, an Everett Republican who recently gave up on his long-shot bid for the presidency.

However, many Washington residents don’t understand how the caucuses work and don’t plan to attend.

Vickie Bailey, manager of the American Legion Lounge in Arlington, is impressed by McCain’s support of veterans and plans to vote for him in the primary, but has never been to a caucus because she wrongly thought only “influential people” were allowed to attend. Bailey, 55, wants a say in the process, but she thinks the primary system is confusing and comes too late in Washington to make a difference in any but the closest of races.

“We might as well not vote at all,” she said, leaning on the bar. “We’re so far out, it’s already decided by the time we vote.”

Karen Abbott of rural Arlington is also worried that her primary vote won’t matter much because of the timing of Washington’s primary. The retired inventory clerk from Safeway plans to skip the caucus, but cast her vote for Clinton anyway and hope for the best.

“I’m concerned about that a little, but I’m going to vote anyway,” she said while browsing for books in the Arlington Library. “It may (matter). It depends on how the other states go.”

Voters in Washington will have an important decision to make regardless of the outcomes on Super Tuesday, Monroe Mayor Donnetta Walser said.

“I think what other states decide is one thing, but we have our own identity,” said Walser, a Clinton supporter.

Pete Jackson, son of the late, longtime Democratic U.S. Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Everett, is supporting Obama, but voted for McCain in the primary.

“It was my protest that the Democratic primary didn’t count for anything, so I might as well vote for the best Republican,” he said.

In 1979, at age 12, Pete Jackson met McCain on a trip to China. McCain was working as a Navy liaison to the U.S. Senate and an escort officer for congressional trips. The two had a chance to bond during a pit stop at an old air base in the Gobi desert.

“He’s a nice guy,” said Jackson, now 41. “I’m impressed that he’s gone so far.”

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and Sheriff John Lovick both plan to support Clinton in the primary.

“I’ve already voted for the next president of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton,” Lovick said. “I really liked her message. To me, experience counts.”

Clinton is well acquainted with Washington state and its issues, Reardon said.

“I think we need a president who’s ready to begin the job and get the job done on day one,” he said. “She gets it. She understands how federal policy impacts people’s daily lives.”

Local Mormons are following the races closely, watching to see if Mitt Romney will become the nation’s first Mormon president.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to have nearly 250,000 members in Washington state, but local Mormons say Romney shouldn’t assume those votes are in the bag.

Kim Guymon of Everett said she plans to vote for Romney, but not because he’s a member of the Mormon church.

“That would be the wrong reason to pick a candidate,” she said. “He stands for family. He’s one of the few candidates running on the Republican side who has been married for many years to the same person.”

Everett residents George and Bette Brown have been following media coverage of Super Tuesday, but say it won’t impact their votes. They’ve already decided to support Obama.

“We need to get out of the war,” said George Brown, 80. “We need to change our economic system. We need to change our tax code. We need to provide better health care. It’s a crime to have 47 million people uninsured.”

Twenty-year-old Staci Heimbigner isn’t paying much attention to the primary. The Marysville resident has never voted before and doesn’t see much of a point in voting in the primary or attending a caucus. She does, however, want to vote in the general election.

“A lot of our generation do last-minute kinds of things,” she said, waiting for coffee at Starbucks. “I’m thinking, ‘It’s in November. It’s not a big deal.’ “

Super Tuesday is always exciting to Chris Nandor. The avid Republican planned to spend his evening watching election updates on CNN.

While some Washingtonians don’t see the point of the caucuses and primaries, Nandor’s excitement is palpable. A hit YouTube video of the Arlington resident singing about the Republican candidates appeared on national TV during a CNN debate late last year.

“If McCain doesn’t get a majority, especially after Super Tuesday, that makes states like Washington very important,” he said. “We’ve got a significant number of delegates from Washington. Washington could have a significant impact on who ends up winning this race.”

Herald reporter Krista Kapralos contributed to this report.

Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or kmanry@heraldnet.com.

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