Sunday, March 30, 2008
Second Texas Democratic Caucuses Bring More Chaos
By R.G. RATCLIFFE
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
AUSTIN — Traffic jams, long lines, crowds, confusion and chaos marked Texas Democratic regional conventions Saturday as an unprecedented number of political activists turned out to help elect presidential nominating delegates for Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.
There are 67 at-large delegates at stake, depending mostly on the results of the state senatorial district and county conventions.
Obama was the caucus winner on primary night, and an Associated Press delegate count showed he might be holding his ground.
Obama's campaign late Saturday said he would win, claiming he would receive 38 delegates to Clinton's 29. Clinton's campaign says Obama should wait for the official results before declaring victory.
If the Obama campaign prediction is accurate, that would give Obama a total five-delegate advantage over Clinton in the Texas primary/caucus contest.
Obama won all of the Houston-area conventions, except Senate District 6, a heavily Hispanic community that went for Clinton in the popular vote. That district's results were the subject of an ongoing dispute late Saturday.
The area conventions often were marked by exasperation as thousands of people who had never participated in the process before gathered to show support for their candidate and try to win a slot to attend the state party convention in June.
"It's going very good," state Senate District 17 Chairman Bert Anson said in the midst of the convention in Elsik High School's gymnasium. "I've only been yelled at and cursed twice. I've only lost my temper once. No, I've lost my temper twice."
Delegates statewide also had to suffer through long sign-in lines to declare their allegiance to a candidate. Some arrived at 7 a.m. and did not make it into their convention halls for hours. The delegates were elected at the March 4 precinct caucuses.
"People are frustrated. Everybody's got a life. We're not professional politicians," said Ron Rothe, a Clinton alternate attending the Senate District 4 convention at the San Jacinto College North Campus. "But the crowd is very amiable, and we only do this every four years."
Republicans also held senatorial district and county conventions Saturday to elect delegates to their state convention, but there were no delegate contests because U.S. Sen. John McCain has clinched the GOP nomination.
Gov. Rick Perry attended the Senate District 14 convention in Austin to urge his fellow Republicans to pass a resolution showing support for the Boy Scouts of America against "increasing attacks" from "radical homosexuals, liberal extremists" and the American Civil Liberties Union. The Boy Scouts bar gays from serving as troop leaders.
Democratic Party officials on the March 4 primary night had predicted Obama would lead 37-30 based on a preliminary count of the 1 million people who turned out for precinct caucuses. The delegate split, however, can change based on how many delegates pledged to each candidate showed up for the local and state conventions Saturday.
Clinton claimed a 65-61 advantage in the delegates allotted based on the March 4 popular vote results in the primary.
The conventions Saturday were electing about 7,300 delegates to the state Democratic Convention, June 5-7 in Austin. Those delegates will make the final decision on how the 67 caucus delegates are divided.
Typically, only a few hundred people turn out for the local conventions, but this year party officials had to find larger venues because tens of thousands of delegates attended.
Traffic jams leading to the Travis County Exposition Center for the Senate District 14 and Senate District 25 conventions caused numerous delegates to abandon their vehicles more than a mile away and walk to the convention.
The Senate District 11 convention in Pasadena had more than 1,200 people show up at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Hall. The parking lot overflowed into a nearby elementary school, and cars lined the streets for blocks.
At the Senate District 6 convention, an area of heavy Clinton support, there were more than 40 precincts who had no delegates show up for the convention.
Clinton received about 64 percent of the popular vote in the Senate District 6 in the March 4 primary, but only 55 percent of the delegates attending Saturday's convention backed her.
That gave Obama an opportunity to make up for losing ground in Webb County, where Clinton received all 51 delegates to the state convention because Obama's delegates did not reach a 15 percent threshold attendance for claiming delegates. He had received 20 percent of the vote in the primary there.
One of the wildest conventions was Senate District 19 held at a San Antonio warehouse.
When there was a fight over the list and credentials of registered delegates, the warehouse owner threatened to expel the convention.
At the Senate District 13 convention at Texas Southern University in Houston, an Obama stronghold, Clinton supporters unsuccessfully tried to gain delegate strength by asking Obama backers to switch so they would be elected as delegates to the state convention. Obama came out of the convention with 272 state delegates to Clinton's 69.
When U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, a superdelegate pledged to Clinton, spoke to the Senate District 13 convention, some Obama supporters booed her.
Despite the hassles Saturday, many Democrats said the turnout excited them about their prospects of breaking the Republican political hold on Texas.
"I wish we could bottle this enthusiasm and carry it over to November, which I think we will do," said Rodney Griffin, temporary chairman of the Senate District 13 convention in Missouri City.
Houston Chronicle reporters Alan Bernstein, Cindy George, Eric Hanson, Harvey Rice, Matt Stiles, San Antonio Express-News reporter Graeme Zielinski and The Associated Press contributed.