TWIN FALLS • Magic Valley Democrats overwhelmingly supported Bernie Sanders as their presidential candidate at Tuesday night’s caucuses.

More than 730 people participated Twin Falls County’s caucus — with energetic speeches and two rounds of voting — at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Building.

In the final round of voting, 522 people supported Sanders and 201 supported Hillary Clinton. Twin Falls County is sending 14 delegates to the state convention in June in Boise — 10 for Sanders and four for Clinton.

An hour before the caucus started, parking lots were filling up and long lines formed to check in.

“We’ve had a lot of energetic, positive response,” said Bob Sojka, vice chairman for the Twin Falls County Democrats.

Interest picked up after Sanders visited Idaho, he said, and he thinks people are also energized by opposition to Republican candidates.

Attendees ranged from newly-eligible voters and 20-somethings to elderly community members. Inside the Fine Arts Auditorium, they were grouped by which candidate they support or if they were undecided.

Participants weren’t required to be a registered Democrat. But those who voted in the March 8 GOP primary weren’t supposed to participate. People were also allowed to observe.

Before the Caucus

Inside the auditorium, people held up signs, and started cheering and chanting before the caucus began. Sanders supporters chanted, “Feel the Bern,” “Bernie,” “Bernie Sanders’ got our back. We don’t need no Super PAC” while Clinton supporters chanted “Hillary.”

Sojka shouted, “Are there any Democrats in here?” and the crowd cheered.

Leroy Hayes, a legislative district chairman for the Twin Falls County Democrats, was helping people register to vote.

He held up a thick stack of registration forms – which he estimated at between 40 and 50 — with about 45 minutes until the caucus started. “We’re having a really large number of people,” he said.

Attendee Joyce Ballard said she supports Clinton and felt it was her duty to attend. It was her first caucus. Why does she support Clinton? “All of her experience,” she said.

Twin Falls resident Maryam Abdulrahman said she likes the Democratic candidates. As for Sanders, “I like the way he talks,” she said, but noted she likes Clinton, too.

She has been a regular voter for 27 years and cast a ballot for President Barack Obama during the last presidential election. She said the big issues for her in this election are education and health care.

Kindy Combe was also waiting in the lobby before the caucus began. She said she loves Sanders and wants to make sure he gets her vote. “I think that he’s been consistent with the policies he’s put in place.”

Scott Lockner said he’s also a Sanders supporter, but “if Bernie doesn’t win, then of course I’ll be a Hillary fan.”

It was his first caucus experience and he didn’t know what to expect. Combe said she was excited to see the large turnout.

Liz Halfhill, 25, came to the caucus with a group of friends — all young adults — and said it’s her civic duty to participate.

She said she supports Sanders. “I’m feeling the Bern,” she said. Sanders cares about the welfare of people and “he genuinely seems like a good person,” she added.

Deb Seles — a Twin Falls pastor — was also experiencing her first caucus. She has been in Twin Falls for six years and previously lived in Illinois.

“I’m interested in the Democratic process,” she said, adding she came with an open mind about which candidate to support.

Speeches in Support of Candidates

The caucus included speeches in support of each candidate, which were frequently interrupted with applause and cheering.

Jill Skeem spoke in support of Clinton.

Clinton grew up in a middle class home and was in her pre-teens on a field trip when she saw Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, Skeem said. “It sparked her lifelong passion for social justice.”

Skeem talked about Clinton’s background as an attorney, first lady of Arkansas and the United States, eight years in the U.S. Senate, and four years as Secretary of State.

“She is the only candidate who can step into the Oval Office on day one and know what to do,” Skeem said about Clinton.

“Hillary would make history as the first woman president of the United States,” she said. “This is not about biology, but who is the most qualified to be president and who happens to be a woman.”

Sierra Sandison spoke in support of Sanders. She served as Miss Idaho 2014 and now, she’s a student at Boise State University.

When she was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, it was devastating, she told the crowd. Without access to insulin, “diabetes is a death sentence,” she said.

Living with a chronic illness can be physically and emotionally difficult, she said, and under the U.S. health care system, it’s financially overwhelming.

“I am proud to vote for the candidate who does not take enormous contributions from pharmaceutical and insurance industries,” Sandison said.

“Let’s show this country that Idaho feels the Bern,” she said to conclude her speech. Some Sanders supporters rose to the feet and cheered.

Once the speeches concluded, the crowd was given five minutes to move around the auditorium. Clinton and Sanders supporters went over to talk with undecided voters.

A handful of undecided voters got up and moved toward the side of the auditorium for the candidate they decided to support, as the crowd cheered loudly.

Local Democratic candidates for office – including Deborah Silver, Catherine Talkington, Dale Varney and Skeem — gave speeches as ballots were tallied.

In the first round of voting, 521 caucus participants supported Sanders, 191 supported Hillary Clinton and 21 were undecided.

In the second round of speeches, CSI student Kailee Hudson 21, spoke in support of Sanders. His campaign is a grassroots movement, she said. “He’s not going to go anywhere and neither are his supporters.”

Sanders has a vision for a country where each of its citizens can join an educated workforce, Hudson said. And “Bernie is a candidate who will make education affordable and accessible.”

Carol Robertson, sub-caucus chairwoman for Clinton, also spoke. The country needs a president who’s experienced, knowledgeable and outspoken on a full range of issues, she said.

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“This person also must be electable in November and I believe that person is Hillary Clinton,” she said.

But Robertson spend most of the time talking about how Democrats “need to hang together regardless of who gets the nomination.”

Around the Magic Valley

Most counties had more people show up than expected.

In Jerome, voters from high-school age to senior citizens showed up, Jerome County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Gulick said.

The party expected about 75 participants, but 144 showed up, he said.

“We planned on getting here at 5 o’clock to set up chairs and start organizing,” he said. “But we had people showing up as early as 4:30.”

A few participants left, but in the end, 107 people chose Sanders and 32 chose Clinton.

In Gooding County, 77 people participated.

“They were great,” said David Maestas, chairman of the Gooding County Democratic Central Committee. “It was an unreal evening.”

There were two rounds of voting with Sanders taking 49 votes, for two delegates to the state convention, and Clinton taking 28 votes, for one delegate.

“The speakers were excellent,” Maestas said. “The Bernie gang is a lot of younger voters and they did an excellent job.”

Minidoka and Cassia counties held both held their caucus, with 174 total voters, held at the Burley Inn Convention Center.

The event was coordinated by Minidoka Democratic Party Chairman Damian Rodriguez and Cassia Democratic Party Chairman Michael Poole.

Sanders took 51 votes to Clinton’s 26 in Minidoka County. In Cassia County, Sanders had 57 votes and Clinton had 36.

Judy West, a Hillary Clinton supporter from Minidoka County, said the former Secretary of State met with community leaders across the world and has fought for women’s rights.

She said Bernie Sanders would not be successful with Congress.

“I think his ideas are wonderful,” West said. “I don’t think he has the backing or ability to implement them.”

Several of the attendees were first-time voters, including Minico High School senior Dakota Smith.

Smith, who aspired to be a politician but became disillusioned in recent years, said Bernie Sanders’ campaign has inspired him to instead to become a public servant and showed him that funding from big donors is not needed to run a successful campaign.

“If you scream loud enough, people will push you to the top,” he said.

Smith was later elected as a Minidoka County delegate for Bernie Sanders.

Eric Quitugua and Alison Gene Smith contributed to this report.

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