VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Sam Garst grinned broadly as he looked at the more than 100 Democrats crowded into a Vancouver meeting room on Saturday for the global convention of the U.S. party’s overseas branch.
“At the first global convention we had in 1992, we had 20 people show up. This room is packed, and it’s exciting,” said Garst, a former chairman of Democrats Abroad, which was selecting its final delegate slate for the party’s national convention in August to nominate a presidential candidate.
Democrats gathered in Vancouver for a two-day meeting said they were energized by the tight race between presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and their own awareness of world fears about U.S. foreign policy and the faltering American economy.
“I don’t think a lot of Americans are aware of how the United States is viewed in the world the same way we are,” said Monica Faith Stewart, who moved to South Africa in the 1990s but is originally from Chicago and supports Obama, an Illinois senator.
Obama won the global primary of Democrats Abroad in February, taking nearly 66 percent of the more than 22,000 votes, compared with Clinton’s 34 percent. The group does not disclose its membership, but claims members in more than 100 countries.
It sends delegates to the national presidential convention just like Democratic branches from U.S. states. But under the national party’s byzantine rule structure, each delegate receives only a half a vote.
Obama and Clinton are in a tight race for the Democratic nomination. The eventual nominee will face Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in November.
The February vote results gave Obama the equivalent of three delegate votes compared with 1.5 for Clinton. This meeting on Canada’s Pacific coast was to decide who would serve as delegates and send platform recommendations.
Republicans do not have an overseas primary, but there is a Republicans Abroad organization. Neither the Democrats nor Republicans release the membership size of the overseas chapters.
The Vancouver meeting showed little of the public bickering between the Obama and Clinton camps seen on the U.S. campaign trail.
“I‘m not expecting a party split. (Democrats) as a group are much more used to divisiveness and the public laundering, as opposed to Republican, who tend to do it behind closed doors,” said Joe Smallhoover, chairman of the group’s French chapter.
The Democrats in Vancouver said living outside the United States also meant they had ideas they wanted the rest of the party to listen to.
“Most of us are living in countries where there is universal health care, and it is amazing listening to the candidates that no one is going the whole route of proposing universal health care right away,” said David Miller, a Democrat in Denmark.
“We do see it from a different perspective,” Miller said.
Reporting by Allan Dowd; Editing by Peter Cooney