- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Bernie Sanders won Washington’s Democratic presidential caucuses Saturday after tens of thousands of people cast their votes at schools, libraries and community centers across the state.

Washington has 118 delegates at stake, with 101 to ultimately be awarded proportionally based on the results of the neighborhood gatherings. The remaining 17 are technically unpledged party and elected leaders, though a majority of them - including Gov. Jay Inslee and the state’s congressional delegation - support front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Sanders was winning by large margins across the state. With most of the precincts reporting, he was winning about 72 percent of the delegates elected.

Saturday’s caucuses will elect 27,170 delegates, proportionally allocated to each candidate. Those delegates will then move on to county conventions and legislative district caucuses, where a smaller group will advance to the congressional district caucuses at the end of May, when 67 delegates will be elected to the Democratic National Convention. The following month, the remaining 34 delegates will be chosen and bound based on the ratio of support determined at the May 21 congressional district caucuses.

The Washington caucuses fall on the same day as Democratic caucuses in Alaska and Hawaii. Sanders also won Alaska Saturday, and Hawaii was caucusing later.

Many caucus sites were packed, and big crowds arrived well before the 10 a.m. start time.

In Spokane, a huge line of caucus attendees snaked around the parking lot of Ferris High School on Spokane’s South Hill, including Jennifer Slaughter, 25, of Spokane. The flute player for the Spokane Symphony Orchestra came to caucus for Sanders.

She said he will “take big money out of the political process.”

Dan McLay, 64, of Spokane, a retiree, attended the caucus in a hard-hat, which he joked he needed because he was one of the relatively few Clinton supporters in the crowd.

McLay said Clinton was an experienced leader ready to do the job.

“She is a comprehensive progressive,” McLay said.

In Seattle, a steady stream of caucus goers found their way to Garfield High School in the city’s Central District where they were greeted mostly by Sanders organizers as well as City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant. Sawant, a socialist, backs Sanders.

Sarah Blazevic, 19, was home on break from Gonzaga University and caucused for Sanders, partially because of his stance on making college free.

“I know so many people who worked so hard and did so much in high school and didn’t get to go to college just because they couldn’t afford it or they didn’t get all the same privileges I was born with,” Blazevic said. “I did get to go to college so that’s my big thing.”

Blazevic, who attended Garfield, added she would vote for the Democratic nominee in the general election either way.

Clinton has taken a strong lead in the delegate race, having won nearly 300 more pledged delegates than Sanders so far in primaries and caucuses, according to The Associated Press’ count.

When factoring in superdelegates - party officials who can back any candidate they wish - Clinton holds an ever larger lead.

Both candidates held rallies in Washington state the past week.

More than 150,000 people had preregistered for the Democratic caucuses as of Saturday morning, state party spokesman Jamal Raad said. In addition, about 35,000 people voted in advance due to conflicts with work schedules, religious observances, illnesses, disabilities or military service.

The party had a record 250,000 people turn out for the caucuses in 2008, when President Barack Obama handily beat Clinton.

Seven precincts gathered at Roosevelt Elementary School in Olympia. The crowd of several hundred people grew so large they had to move some from the cafeteria into the gymnasium.

Morgan MacInnis, 27, arrived early to cast his vote for Sanders in his first caucus.

“A lot of what he says resonates with what I feel and think,” said MacInnis, a coffee barista.

Lisa Harper, a 29-year-old communications associate for Inslee, was working as a precinct committee officer at an Olympia caucus site. One of the few Clinton supporters seen at the location, Harper wore a “Washingtonians for Hillary” T-shirt.

“She would be a role model for generations of young women across the world,” she said.

___

Associated Press writers Walker Orenstein in Seattle and Nicholas K. Geranios in Spokane contributed to this report.

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