Colo. Democrats have record caucuses |

Colo. Democrats have record caucuses

George Merritt
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado – Democratic caucus-goers, energized by a historic race that will culminate in Denver later this year, turned out in unheard-of numbers Tuesday.

More than 118,000 people showed up at Colorado’s Democratic precincts, dwarfing the 2004 turnout of 15,000. The numbers came despite winter weather that left parts of the state buried under two feet of snow.

“I expected a big turnout,” state Senate President Peter Groff said at a caucus at Roberts Middle School. “I don’t think I expected anything like this.”

Elyse Holston, 51, was one of thousands attending their first caucus.

“I just think this one is going to make history, especially with Denver having the convention in August,” she said.

Sen. Barack Obama benefited from enthusiasm in the state. With 98 percent of Democratic precincts reporting, Obama had 66 percent of the vote to 33 percent for Hillary Clinton

From Denver to Durango, party officials worked over the weekend to ensure precincts were ready for overflow crowds.

“Our phones have been ringing off the wall for three days straight now,” Democratic party spokesman Matt Sugar said. “I think this is unprecedented . The excitement about these candidates is at a level we have not seen.”

Early Tuesday, Sugar was predicting Democrats would double their usual turnout, but precincts were flooded that night with more than 10 times the usual numbers.

To accommodate the rush, Democrats required precinct captains to move the presidential preference straw poll to the first item on the caucus agenda. The tally has often been the final action at caucuses.

Clinton and Obama had been expected to eventually split the state’s 55 delegates, who won’t be chosen until after state party conventions later this year.

Democrats will divide state delegates to the national convention in Denver in August. The Republican caucus is winner-take-all.

Both Democratic campaigns have had success fundraising in the Centennial state, each out-raising that of any Republican candidate.

Obama raised more than $1.4 million, while Clinton brought in just over $1 million by the end of 2007. The closest Republican candidate in fundraising was Mitt Romney, who raised $856,000.

Obama made an impressive appearance at the University of Denver last week, luring close to 20,000 people. Hillary Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, also campaigned in Denver, following Obama’s appearance by just hours.

Both campaigns had systems in place to help with any backlog of voters hoping to verify their precinct or double-check their registration at the last minute.

Obama campaign spokesman Josh Freed said he was impressed with the number of calls coming in. He credited the Illinois senator with motivating new voters, but he said both candidates pushed turnout.

“I think that Democrats in general are excited about the likelihood of electing someone to the White House,” he said.

Clinton’s state director, Tyler Chafee, described the campaign headquarters Tuesday as “bedlam” as caucus hopefuls flooded phone lines.

Turnout expectations were high despite another snowstorm that draped the state. Residents in parts of metropolitan Denver woke to more than six inches of snow. Communities in southwestern Colorado were still digging out from under two feet of snow that fell Sunday night.

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