Obama wins overwhelmingly in Colorado; Romney leading
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” Barack Obama scored an overwhelming victory over Hillary Clinton in Colorado’s Democratic presidential caucuses on Tuesday, benefiting from a record turnout that included thousands of first-time caucus goers. In the Republican race, Mitt Romney had a 2-1 lead over John McCain.
With 85 percent of precincts reporting, Obama had 66 percent and Clinton 33 percent.
For the Republicans, with 54 percent of precincts reporting, Romney had 57 percent, McCain 21 percent, Mike Huckabee 13 percent and Ron Paul 8 percent.
Both parties reported extremely heavy turnout, causing delays as people tried to vote.
At stake in Colorado were 43 Republican and 55 Democratic delegates selected through the caucuses. The caucuses were nonbinding and Colorado voters won’t select presidential delegates until the major parties have their conventions in May.
However, Tuesday’s straw polls in Colorado were considered crucial because the final delegates will be selected through that process and it gives political momentum to the winners.
Pollster Floyd Ciruli said this is the first time in decades that Colorado voters have had a part in deciding the nominees because it moved the caucuses from March to Feb. 5 so candidates would pay attention.
The Democratic race in Colorado is especially crucial because the winner will be nominated at the convention in Denver in August, and young voters are excited and getting involved.
About 1,000 people packed Denver’s East High School gym for Democratic caucuses representing 14 precincts. Gov. Bill Ritter thanked them for turning out and predicted the next president will be chosen at the Democratic convention in Denver. The crowd cheered.
He said the record turnout was due to exciting candidates.
“I say that about both of our candidates. I also think it says people in Colorado want change in November and they want to be part of that change,” Ritter said.
State GOP chair Dick Wadhams said his precinct caucus, at Columbine High School, drew at least 50 people, compared to the dozen who normally show up. More than 500 people attended 16 precincts at the school, more than four times the 2004 turnout.
Not voting were Republicans in Jackson County, who didn’t take a presidential preference poll.
“For whatever reason, they said they weren’t going to take the poll. I regret that, but that’s their choice,” said Wadhams.
In another caucus at Columbine, Jay LaBlanc, 42, told his fellow caucus-goers that he was supporting Huckabee. “But to be honest, I could support any Republican to beat Hillary.”
Aurora Community College reported more than 1,000 voters showed up. And about 500 turned up at Hill Middle School in east Denver, where John Shepherd, 43, said he was attending his first caucus because he believed Obama is a “once in a generation candidate.”
Former Denver Mayor Federico Pena drew rousing applause when he praised Obama before the caucus began. Congresswoman Diana DeGette, who is backing Clinton, said no matter who wins, the party will remain united.
David Ruley, 60, said he has lived in Colorado for 35 years but had never been to a caucus before. He went to his first one in Aurora.
“Well you know, it seems to me that we’ve never been a part of Super Tuesday before. It’s usually a moot point by the time it’s our turn,” he said.
Some 15,000 Democrats participated in the state caucuses in 2004, and Matt Sugar, spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party, said at least double that figure was expected Tuesday night.
State Republican Party spokeswoman Teresa Sauer said the party kept no data on past caucuses but added officials were “expecting records.”
Several counties reported problems ranging from voter confusion to the weather.
Adams County clerk Karen Long said at least 100 people showed up at county offices Tuesday morning looking to cast ballots. Many people said they’d heard or seen radio or TV coverage about primaries happening across the country, and thought they could also vote in an election in Colorado.
About 300 other people called, asking where they could vote.
In La Plata County, which was hit by two major snowstorms in the past week, some voters considered using snowmobiles to get to their caucuses.
Jean Walter, chairwoman of the La Plata Democratic Party, said weather could hurt turnout.
“A few people have called and asked for rides,” she said.
Associated Press writer Sandy Shore contributed to this report.