The Clark County Republican Party held its 2020 precinct caucuses on Saturday, kicking off the local starting round of a process that will ultimately culminate at the Republican National Convention.
During prior elections, the caucuses gave voters the opportunity to push for their preferred presidential candidates. But in a year when the Republican Party’s candidate will be chosen by primary ballot — and President Donald Trump is the only candidate on the ballot anyway — what’s left for caucusgoers to do?
Quite a lot, according to Clark County Republican caucus and convention Chair Michael Delavar — but it can be a struggle to communicate that to voters.
“Part of the challenge (for people) is understanding why we need a caucus,” he said.
The main purpose of the caucus is to allow Republican Party members in each of Clark County’s 314 party precincts to choose the delegates to represent them at the party’s county convention April 4 at Washougal High School.
The county convention will select a roster of more than 100 delegates to send to the party’s state convention May 14 to 16 in Everett, which will in turn select the 44 delegates — three from Clark County — who will travel to the Republican National Convention Aug. 24 to 27 in Charlotte, N.C.
Addressing the crowd at one of the party’s two precinct caucus locations on Saturday, Delavar emphasized the pathway from the caucus to the national convention. If any local party member wants a shot at becoming a national delegate, he said, the caucus is where they need to start making their case.
Additionally, party members who attended the caucus were able to submit recommendations for the party’s platform, and they were given the opportunity to join the county party’s Platform and Resolution Committee.
Delavar chairs the committee, and he said the open membership policy is intended to increase voter engagement and give party members more time to draft the platform so that it doesn’t become an afterthought.
Prairie High School and Union High School served as the two caucus sites on Saturday, each responsible for half of the county’s precincts.
At Union, the precincts were divided among about 30 tables spread around the school’s cafeteria. The tables were organized by turnout, Delavar said — precincts with several expected attendees got tables to themselves, while districts with one or fewer expected attendees were assigned four to a table.
Each precinct had a designated Precinct Committee Officer to oversee the proceedings. The officers automatically became delegates, and then each precinct was allowed to select an additional number of delegates based on the number of Republican voters in the precinct, up to a maximum of four delegates per precinct.
Delavar said he expected a minimum of 500 attendees between the two caucus locations — a big decrease from 2016, he said, but not unexpected given that Trump is already locked in as the presumptive Republican nominee.
“One huge difference between the last caucus and this one is there’s no line out the door,” Delavar noted shortly before the caucus began at Union.
In a contested primary election year, the event would take up far more space and likely feature speeches from supporters of particular candidates, precinct committee officer Mark Engleman said, recalling the 2008 and 2012 caucuses.
This time around the caucus floor was fairly quiet, without very many signs or gear on display for particular candidates apart from the occasional pro-Trump hat or T-shirt.
“It’s more about developing the platform and resolutions,” said attendee David King.
Most of the tables filled up by the time the Union caucus began, although a few remained empty. Engleman and another precinct committee officer, Steve Prastka, were the only attendees at their table. But, Prastka explained, that didn’t mean they’d be the only delegates for their precincts.
District residents can volunteer as delegates even if they can’t make it to the caucus, Prastka said, as long as someone is there to nominate them — and he and Engleman each had a list of nominees ready to go.
At another table, Larry Bair, Neil Berry and King all showed up to represent the same precinct. But with two delegate slots and two alternates to fill, it was still a fairly easy decision.
Bair said it was his first time attending a party caucus in 12 years. He said he learned about it from a party email and decided that it would be a good learning opportunity even without a contested presidential nomination.
“This is a way I can engage with other like-minded individuals,” he said.
Lower attendance numbers made for a quick process; the last of the tables wrapped up their discussions in about 45 minutes, and Delavar and Clark County Republican Party Chairman Earl Bowerman said afterward that they thought the process went smoothly.
The next step is for the party to review the results and verify the identities and home precincts of the delegates, Delavar said, before certifying the final list of delegates for the county convention.
“We’ll know in a couple days how many delegates will show up — or at least, the maximum number,” he said.