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Originally published March 3, 2012 at 10:12 PM | Page modified March 3, 2012 at 10:42 PM

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Snapshots of politics in action

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Across the state, thousands of Republicans gathered Saturday at precinct caucuses to debate the merits of the four remaining GOP presidential candidates and pick a favorite.

Much of the talk — if not the votes — centered on U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, of Texas, who has inspired a passionate following.

Here's a sampling of the conversation.

Kirkland

This is grass-roots American democracy: a fold-up table in the Kirkland Boys & Girls Club surrounded by four voters in metal chairs.

But the caucusgoers of the Sprinkle precinct were at an impasse.

Two of them — a strong Ron Paul supporter and a fervent Rick Santorum backer — hoped to go to the legislative district convention to advocate for their candidate.

And the other two, an older couple who had reluctantly decided on Mitt Romney but didn't feel passionate enough to attend the convention, couldn't agree on whom to send to represent them.

So the two eager voters tried to sell their neighbors on their candidate.

"We need to get Obama out of the White House," said Dwight Lyle, a 25-year-old IBM employee, "and Ron Paul is the one to do it."

"He hasn't even won a state!" exclaimed Peter Wilch, 38, a welder.

"Oh come on," Lyle scoffed. "Most of those are just straw polls."

Back and forth the convention aspirants went, repeating oft-heard arguments and counterarguments in front of their audience of two. But the 2-2 vote remained the same after one count, then another and another.

Lyle, frustrated, called for the caucus chairwoman. Surely there was a rule governing situations like this, some procedure to resolve the dispute.

And indeed there was: a coin flip.

So Wilch produced a quarter and the four voters leaned in, hovering over the table for the toss.

The coin spun and lurched before finally landing on tails.

And that's how the Sprinkle precinct decided to support Rick Santorum for president.

— Brian M. Rosenthal

Seattle

Ron Paul supporters gathered at the Labor Temple in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood said they felt a little uncomfortable when 36th Legislative District chairman Glenn Avery made a joke about being proud to be a Republican even in liberal Seattle.

"We're more proud to wear our Ron Paul stickers than to be a Republican," said Kristy Padgett, adding that if they can't vote for Paul, "We're all going back to Obama.' "

Paul "changed the definition of Republican for me," chimed in Padgett's table mate, Adib Kadir, a former Obama supporter with a Ron Paul sticker on his shirt.

The half-dozen people at the table shared a distaste for the national direction of the Republican Party. No one blinked when one of them — a 2008 Obama campaign volunteer who didn't want to be named — said the other Republican candidates were "morally bankrupt."

"If one of the other three clowns get in, you're in trouble," he said.

His table mates just nodded.

— Emily Heffter

Sammamish

Dan and Eleanor Sweetwood were a split force in the caucus at Discovery Elementary School. He supported Mitt Romney, she Ron Paul.

Dan, 55, a Microsoft contractor, said Romney has shown his mettle by running a well-managed campaign and leading a succession of large organizations: "He's used to that, he knows how to lead."

Eleanor, 48, a teacher at the International Academy of Design and Technology, said she thinks Romney will win the Republican nomination, but she supported Paul "to make a statement" for who is "always consistent with his message" and "very authentic."

The Sweetwoods' precinct tilted in Paul's direction in the caucus. But that appeared to buck the overall trend in Sammamish, where Romney won overwhelming majorities in many caucuses. One factor that may have helped Romney, a Mormon, was a strong Mormon turnout, Dan Sweetwood said.

"There's a ton of them today," he said. "I'm one. There's a lot of us up here on the Plateau. I see they're out in force."

— Keith Ervin

SeaTac

At Tyee High School in SeaTac, David Dukes argued to three other voters that Ron Paul has the best shot at beating Obama in fall.

"He's the only one who can bring along Democrats, independents, liberals, libertarians and Republicans," said Dukes, a 49-year-old finish carpenter.

Larry Hughes, a 71-year-old retired IT professional, shook his head. He recalled thinking that Barry Goldwater was a much-need change agent, as Dukes sees Paul now, only to see Goldwater defeated soundly in 1964 by Lyndon Johnson.

"I see Goldwater all over again," Hughes said. Romney is the only candidate who can beat Obama, he said.

"You have to stand on principal," Dukes said. "The Republican Party has lost its way in politics. They used to stand for small government. What do they stand for now? Wars and spending money."

"Libertarians never elected anybody but Jesse Ventura!" Hughes said.

"That's just the media talking," Dukes said.

"I hate that we're hamstrung by electability," said Erin Sitterley, a home-health-care worker who backed Santorum. "You keep saying Ron Paul can't win. Give him traction, and support, and money and maybe he can."

But on the straw poll, the majority in the precinct went for Romney.

— Jonathan Martin

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