Florida Sen. Marco Rubio edged out Ohio Gov. John Kasich Saturday in the District’s Republican primary, in which voters waited in line as much as two hours to vote.
Many of them called it one of the most significant GOP primaries here in years.
The allocation of the 19 delegates at stake was not clear as of late Saturday night. However, Jose Cunningham, chairman of the city’s Republican party, said the allocation would be in proportion to the votes received.
Announced results gave Rubio 37.30 per cent of the 2,839 votes cast. Kasich came close behind with 35.54 per cent, a difference of less than two per centage points, which suggested that they might each get a similar share of delegates, perhaps seven or eight.
Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) trailed by substantial margins. Trump got 13.77 per cent of the votes and Cruz 12.36 per cent. By rough estimate each might get at least one delegate.
Others on the ballot received less than one per cent each.
Those waiting to vote formed a long line. Some waited for two or three hours.
“It’s exciting to see this many Republicans in D.C.,” Erika Walter, 27, said as she waited her turn in a line that snaked out of the polling place in the Loews Madison Hotel and down 15th Street NW for a block before wrapping around L Street NW.
As of 3:30 p.m., there were more than a thousand people in line, many of whom stood under drizzling skies and said they had been waiting for more than three hours. At one point, the line stretched around three sides of a square block.
Two weeks ago, billionaire businessman and Republican front-runner Trump won a straw poll conducted by the party, followed by Rubio, Cruz, Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has since dropped out of the race. The ballot in the District still carried Carson’s name as well as the names of two other candidates who have withdrawn: former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
With 19 delegates at stake – as many as Hawaii and more than Vermont and Delaware – D.C. Republicans say they pull more weight than many people might think. Moreover, party officials said, holding their primary earlier than usual allows them to have a say while the nomination contest is still competitive.
In the overwhelmingly Democratic city, Republicans make up 6 percent of registered voters. Many said they were heartened by the turnout.
Nevertheless, the 2839 voters who actually cast ballots was only about half the approximately 6,000 who, according to party leaders, cast ballots four years ago when voting was spread throughout the city’s precincts, and not held at one spot.,
DC party executive director Patrick Mara ascribed the long lines to a combination of voter enthusiasm and the single voting location. Delays occurred because officials could rent only 15 voting machines that would accommodate the large ballot for delegates, he said.
“It’s a completely different animal when you have everyone coming to one central location downtown,” Mara said. “We did the best we could under the circumstances.”
The polling place opened at 10 a.m. and was to close at 4 p.m., but Mara said that anyone in line by 4 p.m. would be able to cast a ballot. The party rented a smaller hotel room until 9 p.m. to allow those of the Jewish faith to vote after sundown on the Sabbath.
In other contests Saturday, Republicans in Wyoming held caucuses to select 12 of the state’s 29 delegates. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic caucus on the Northern Mariana Islands and earned four delegates, while Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont picked up two.
The day had its share of Republican star power.
Ben Ginsberg, the Republican lawyer who had helped draw up the working rules of the Republican National Convention, stood in the long line with a plan to vote for “his friends” – activists who were running as uncommitted delegates.
“This turnout is impressive,” Ginsberg said. “This is not the tasseled lobbyist class. These are real people coming out to vote. I don’t recognize most of them.”
C. Boyden Gray, who served as White House counsel under President George H.W. Bush and was running as a delegate supporting Cruz, mingled with voters. Nearby, Joshua Bolten, who served as White House chief of staff to President George W. Bush, manned the #NeverTrump table.
“Who would’ve thunk in Washington, D.C., you’d see Republicans get excited about something,” Gray said. “Normally, we’re such a minority that we don’t matter, but this race is obviously attracting enormous attention.”
Bolten declined to say whom he supports but said he was urging people to vote for delegates “who will oppose Donald Trump at all stages of the convention, assuming it’s contested.” He said he believed there was anti-Trump sentiment behind the turnout.
“A substantial part of the party is steadfastly opposed to the front-runner,” Bolten said.
Tim Schnabel, a 35-year-old State Department employee, had hoped to support Bush or Paul. Leaving the polls, and wearing a #NeverTrump sticker, he said that he had reluctantly supported Cruz.
“My sense is that at this point in the race, Cruz is the only one nationally who has a chance to deny Trump those 1,237 delegates,” he said.
Rita Ferrall, 60, a small-business owner running as a Trump delegate, attributed anti-Trump sentiment to the fact that the District is a government town.
“I think there’s a percentage of people who are against Trump because when he comes in, he’ll make some visible changes,” said Ferrall. “These people are used to business-as-usual in Washington.”
None of the voters interviewed said that recent violence at Trump rallies was a factor in their decision. Most said they had made up their mind before the skirmishes, while some said the violence reinforced their feelings about Trump.
“For me, it reconfirmed that we need to nominate a candidate who doesn’t foment violence,” said Hudson Hollister, 34, who lives on Capitol Hill and said he was voting for Rubio.
“It didn’t surprise me,” said Walter, who said she planned to vote for Rubio because of his “values and integrity,” adding that “Trump is a volatile character, so you can expect his supporters to be the same.”
Gray said he wanted to know more about what sparked the violence but said he worried about the message it sent.
“The question that’s raised is that it appears to be a pattern of Trump supporters maybe egging people on to generate excitement,” Gray said. “I hope that’s not true. … That kind of disruption is not good – not good for the political process, and not good for how people look at us in the rest of the world. It’s just not good.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Katherine Shaver, Clarence Williams