OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -
Bernie Sanders was the winner of Saturday's Nebraska caucuses, defeating Hillary Clinton 57-43 percent.
"I think basically that we have a path toward victory and I'm very proud not only that we seem to be winning these states, but winning them with pretty big numbers," said Sanders at a Michigan rally.
Nebraska Democratic Party President Vince Powers said it was also a win for the state's registered Democrats. "When you're in the minority you have to be able to build the party and we looked as this as a way to build the party. Our voter registration has increased from this and now people are going. I didn't realize there were this many Democrats in my neighborhood or in my town."
Some caucus sites in the metro were blitzed by overflow crowds. “You could actually go inside the building, but inside the gym it was all the way out," said Jacob Murray. "It was like snaked inside the gym like a loop. It was crazy and it kept on looping around.”
Some locations in Douglas County had to get creative, moving everyone outside just to get a proper count. "It was a little chaotic," said Sanders Caucus Captain Mark Vondrasek. "They had everybody set up by name in the gym. They actually ran out of new voter registration forms at one point and one line had to wait about 20 minutes as they went and printed out more new voter registration sheets."
As attendees filtered into the caucus site at Nathan Hale Middle School (Hillary Clinton supporters to one side, Bernie Sanders supporters to the other), site coordinator Preston Love Jr. urged Douglas County Democrats to participate. "We hope that you'll get out and do your civic duty. I think that we're going to have a very spirited caucus. If you're not registered, you can register on the spot." He urged voters to get to their caucus sites because this is where the delegates will be decided.
Once divided, they cast their preference for either candidate on a piece of paper. "For me, I actually changed my party affiliation to Democrat in order to support Bernie because I feel like campaign finance reform is one of the most important things for the political process to work in a Democratic way," said Angela Fernandez.
"She is fighting for the people, she's fighting for everybody, she is the one that is most qualified and that she sticks to the issues, she is not into this name calling," said Clinton supporter Paulistene Gray-Moore.
At Beals Elementary School, so many people showed up that hundreds of voters had to go to an overflow area...outside.
Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen was on hand at the Benson High School caucus site as a volunteer. "We had overflow crowds all day long. We had long lines. We had to separate into three separate groups, which we weren't counting on to help get it done." With 1,400 people on hand at Benson, he said it was encouraging to see the turnout.
Participants circled around, some still undecided, listening to the sales pitch for each candidate in this second-ever Nebraska Democratic caucus. "The reason that Hillary gets so much flak is because she is a powerful woman that gets things done," said one man.
"I think that Hillary is the best candidate for the government that we have now and Sanders is the best president for the government that we need," said another man.
Ron Kaminski, who was helping keep the lines moving at Burke High School, is supporting Clinton because she has done more to help the Democratic Party and is in a position to be "able to get things she wants to do done."
Dave Domina said he would caucus for Sanders, believing Sanders has more integrity than any other candidate. He also agrees with Sanders that "most change will be secondary to changing campaign financing." Sanders has rejected financing his campaign through a super PAC.
Tara Evans of Bellevue said she supports Hillary Clinton because of her promises to pursue equal pay for women and to prevent price gouging by pharmaceutical companies. Evans wants to see a woman in the Oval Office and said a White House that includes former President Bill Clinton is a bonus.
Charles Fisher, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student from Bellevue, was caucusing for Sanders because of his promise to minimize the influence of money in politics. Fisher criticized Clinton for flip-flopping on some issues. "Bernie just seems a lot more stable."
Unlike other states, Nebraska allows for what's known as absentee preference cards, similar to an absentee ballot. Last week, it was estimated that thousands would vote "absentee."
WOWT 6 News talked to a caucus captain who said she felt those absentee voters would be a big part of their local results. "We had huge absentee ballot turnout," said Clinton Caucus Captain Jason Brown. "To be able to include those who are unable because of work schedules, who are working two or three jobs, who are such the core of the Democratic Party, for those who are elderly, who don't have a ride, who aren't able to stand for four hours in line, I love the absentee process for that."
Maybe that's because the Clinton absentees had more numbers with hundreds more in this district, but in person caucusing, at all of the locations we visited, even in Sarpy County the Sanders supporters seemed to take the win.
It was something Katrina Nesbit was glad to see at her first caucus. "Basically, every day we're updated about the election, watch the news and so I've just been making my decision based off of that and the different news articles that I've read."
The crowds were diverse in age. Theater teacher Marya Lucca-Thyberg was happy to see some of her students in the crowd. "I keep telling them, you're going to be around, I'm going to be dead, you're going to be around and you're the ones that have to change it so whatever they did, whoever they chose, I was just glad to see them part of the process."
Caucus organizers told WOWT 6 News they're excited to see so much political interest. They see the overcrowded locations as a sign that more and more people want their voices to be heard.
Nebraska offers 25 delegates up for grabs for the Democratic National Convention in July.
Republicans do not hold caucuses and instead will vote in the May 10th primary.