EAGLE COUNTY - The long road to nominate a Republican presidential candidate swings through Colorado Feb. 7., which means this state may get a voice in who eventually appears on the November ballot.
Colorado has traditionally held its primary elections and caucuses in March, but the Republican caucus is now in February. Over the last couple of decades, as other states have moved their nominating elections to earlier dates, Colorado has become less relevant in the process. Moving the caucus to February is an attempt to make Colorado more important to those running for President.
What's a caucus?
In short, it's a meeting of party faithful, who gather to talk about issues, meet candidates for local offices and, in this case, participate in a non-binding presidential preference poll. Those who attend also pick delegates to the party's county assembly - it's March 24 for local Republicans.
Dick Gustafson of Vail has been attending party caucuses - Republican, in his case - just about forever. He knows all about the state party's strategy for getting more involved in selecting a presidential candidate, and said he's somewhat amused by it.
"Everybody wants to be first," Gustafson said. "But everybody's forgotten about Iowa already. That vote for (former Senator Rick) Santorum doesn't mean anything right now."
But Gustafson said people who want to get involved in party politics should attend the caucuses. That's where the business of party politics starts, from the national to state to local levels.
There are only a couple of Eagle County Commissioner positions on the local ballot this year, but four Republicans have announced their candidacy for those seats. That quartet has to become a duo before the November election, and that process starts at the caucus.
Mike Mathias of Vail is another longtime party activist. In fact, he's the chairman for party activities in Vail. Mathias recently mailed 1,200 postcards to registered Republicans in his area, urging them to turn out for the caucus. During election years, he also arranges candidate visits, sets up events, and hands out yard signs and flyers.
Mathias said he hopes having an earlier voice in selecting a candidate will increase turnout to the caucus. Turnout from the county's 30 voting precincts will determine how those precincts are represented at the county assembly. In 2008, Edwards had nine delegates to the county assembly, while Red Cliff had just a couple.
Mathias called the caucus fun, but for a dedicated party member, the real fun starts at the assembly. That's where a vote of delegate determines whether there will be a primary for the commissioner seats. If a candidate receives less than 30 percent of the votes at the assembly, he'll have to gather petition signatures to force a primary.
Beyond that, the county assembly picks delegates to the party's state assembly. That's where delegates are picked for the national convention, to be held in Tampa this year.
Gustafson was picked as an alternate delegate to the 2004 Republican National Convention, held in New York City.
"That was a helluva lot of fun," Gustafson said. "We got to meet guys who were on the 9-11 rescue teams and got to go down to the bottom of the Ground Zero site. I'll never forget that. And it all started out by being involved."
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.