At the Democratic caucus held four years ago at Catharine Blaine School, a total of 62 Magnolians showed up, and there were 10 precincts without a representative.
It was a different story Saturday, Feb. 7, when 554 people packed themselves into the school to take part in the process of selecting delegates to send to district caucus at Ballard High School on May 1.
The turnout at Lawson Elementary was 336, and 7,578 for the entire 36th District.
"The attendance really is the story," said precinct committee officer Janis Traven. "Attendance everywhere was phenomenal. I'm beyond happy [with the turnout]."
Though Traven had would not divulge the numbers for the Blaine caucuses - she wanted to verify them first - she said she was happy with the results at the state level, where candidate Howard Dean edged out Democratic contender John Kerry by garnering 41 percent of the delegates (Kerry got 39 percent).
"We delivered the 36th District for Howard Dean," Traven said. "He has made me proud to be a Democrat. If he makes the other candidates better, that's a good thing."
Traven said she attributed the high turnout at caucuses in Magnolia and around the state to a general concern with the direction President George Bush is taking the country. "People despise Bush and are going to do anything to get rid of him," she said, adding that she feels that Dean is responsible for rallying the party. "He has given Democrats a spine," Traven said.
This anti-Bush sentiment was echoed throughout the caucuses, and resulted in heated debates over which candidate presents the best platform for unseating the incumbent.
"This country's gone the wrong way for the last three years," said Tyler Allen. "The motivation is 'anybody but Bush.'"
Allen said he finds Kerry very electable, though he added that he hopes the race stays close in order to keep media coverage at a high pitch. "Fighting voter apathy is critical," he said. "It's great to see so many people fired up. It's great to see people are out and discussing the issues."
For many, the most pressing issue was electability versus record. Kerry supporters argued that their candidate presented the best chance for defeating Bush, and that Dean had proven himself at times too volatile during his campaign. Dean supporters pointed out that Kerry has missed over 60 percent of Senate votes, and when he has voted he approved such things as a Bush tax cut and the Iraq War - both of which Dean opposed.
Traven, who works on the Dean campaign, said she is disappointed with Democrats' recent support of Kerry. "My fear is that a candidate like Kerry is going to inspire people to think that it's business as usual," she said. "It just smacks of politics as usual to me."
Magnolia resident Gail Lawson, who said she was attending her first caucus, also expressed disappointment in voters rallying around Kerry. "I'm a little disheartened with what's happened," Lawson said. "I attribute a lot of it to the media weighing public opinion."
However, she said she was "delighted" with both the turnout at the caucuses. "It showed me that when people are open to listening, you can change peoples' minds when you get the facts," Lawson said, adding that her precinct started with 11 uncommitted voters who ultimately ended up going with Dean.
Like Traven, Lawson also said that Dean "has been instrumental in galvanizing the Democratic Party." She said she hopes between now and the Wisconsin primary next week that things turn around for Dean. "We're not only sending a warrior, we're sending an army with him," she said.
However, Lawson said she will support whoever wins the Democratic candidacy. "I hope the Kerry group will step up to the plate and really actively work as had as the Dean campaign has," she said.
Traven expressed something of the same sentiment. "If [Kerry] ends up being the nominee, I look forward to having him earn my respect," she said. "[Dean] has brought something different and amazing and honest and real. I also think that what Dean has brought needs to be nurtured."
Despite the outcome, Traven said she believes the large turnout at Saturday's caucuses should energize the Democratic Party while also sending a message to the Bush administration. "I think that Democrats should feel good about this," she said. "[Bush] should be very, very afraid."
Rick Levin is editor of Magnolia News.