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Durham women host mock caucus

Mandy Carter was on a mission.

She had three minutes to convince a room full of Durham Democrats that they should support Hillary Clinton for president.

"We've had 43 male presidents," she told the crowd. "It's time for a woman, for a change. This is our moment."

Carter was one of about 100 participants in a mock Democratic caucus held at the Durham County Public Library Wednesday night. Sponsored by the Durham Democratic Women, the "Raucous Caucus" drew a crowd eager to make their political voice heard in a state whose late primary reduces its sway in choosing the presidential nominee.

"People feel like they don't have a vote," said Diana Palmer, first vice chair of the Durham County Democratic Party. "We wanted an event that would give everyone a meaningful way to express their voice."

Caucus-goers began the night by fanning out to separate corners of the room, each labeled for one of the candidates-Clinton, Barack Obama or Mike Gravel. A fourth corner hosted the undecided.

Votes in a caucus are determined by the number of people each candidate has in their corner at the end of the night, and the battle for support is won and lost largely by person-to-person persuasion.

"Undecideds, if they want your vote, make them come to you," said Katy Munger, president of the DDW and an organizer of the event. "This is your chance to get to the heart of why someone supports a candidate."

Then the campaigning began.

In the Clinton corner, supporters talked up their candidate's experience and track record.

"She's authentic on the issues," said Cathy Moore, a voting precinct chair for the Durham Democratic party. "And she's proven. She has worked for the issues she cares about even when they weren't popular."

Meanwhile, across the room, a cluster of high school students discussed their support for Obama.

"Instead of just acting like a Democrat, he wants to bring everyone together to change the nation," said Alex Revelle, a sophomore at the Durham School of the Arts.

After the initial round of mingling, supporters of each candidate were given a chance to speak to the entire room. Finally, there was another round of open discussion-a last-ditch effort to win the most fickle of voters.

Surveying the room, Dan Besse, a candidate for lieutenant governor, said he was excited by the caucus dynamic.

"People who come out to an event like this are the ones who make the democratic system work," he said. "Their involvement shapes the atmosphere for the rest of a campaign."

Some, however, doubted the fairness of the process.

"It's definitely easier to game [than voting by ballot]," said DCDP Chair Kevin Farmer. "Often the candidate with the best-trained crew is the one who prevails."

But for "Raucous Caucus" participants, the competition was friendly. At the end of the night, the entire crowd cheered loudly when Munger announced that Obama was the victor.

When the excitement died down, Munger reminded participants that their role in the political process was not limited to a mock caucus, and their voice could prove crucial in the real national primary.

"With the vote so divided, [the race] may last until May," she said. "It could very well come down to us."

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