Republicans, Democrats say Colorado caucuses relevant
DENVER (AP) ” Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams says Colorado will be relevant in a presidential election for the first time since 1976 when voters go to their caucuses Tuesday night, thanks to the state moving the date from March to Super Tuesday on Feb. 5.
Matt Sugar, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said he expects double the 15,000 voters who went to the presidential caucuses in 2004 because of the excitement of an open presidential race and two history-making candidates, Hillary Clinton, who could become the first woman president, and Barack Obama, who wants to be the first black president.
Wadhams was a delegate for Gerald Ford in 1976, when the Republican state convention was held in Fort Collins. That year, the state convention voted narrowly to back Ronald Reagan, helping send both candidates to Kansas City without a clear nominee going into the national convention.
This year, Colorado could help break a potential deadlock between John McCain and Mitt Romney because Tuesday’s vote is only a straw poll, and Colorado’s 43 GOP delegates won’t be chosen until the state convention in May.
McCain and Romney are competing with two other major candidates, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul.
Wadhams said Tuesday’s vote is important because delegates are only beginning their long journey to the state convention. If there is no clear national winner by May, Colorado could be a deciding factor for the national convention.
“For the first time in 32 years, our caucuses mean something,” he said.
The candidates are paying attention, with campaign stops in Colorado on Friday for Romney and Paul. On Wednesday, Obama drew overflow crowds at Denver University, followed by former President Clinton, Hillary Clinton’s husband.
Sugar said both parties are working overtime to teach people about Colorado’s Byzantine caucus system, which requires at least three elections leading up to the state conventions.
“There are a lot of people who have never participated before who want to participate. We’re expecting record numbers. People are excited about change,” he said.
Campaign supporters said it’s hard for people to understand Colorado’s system because it differs for both major parties.
For Democrats, caucus attendees will divide into groups based on which candidate they support. If a particular candidate fails to gain 15 percent of a total precinct’s support, attendees will be urged to choose one of the remaining candidates and elect delegates.
Republicans will take a straw poll by secret written ballot and won’t be able to switch.
None of the delegates selected on Tuesday are required to support a particular candidate.
The Republicans have 46 delegates to the national convention, including three distinguished delegates who do not have to go through the delegate selection process. The Democrats have 70 delegates, including 15 so-called “superdelegates” who include members of Congress, former governors and members of the Democratic National Committee, also chosen at the state convention in May.
Tyler Chaffee, spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said it doesn’t bother him that none of the delegates are required to support a candidate. He said whoever wins in Colorado will get a moral and political boost.
“At the end of the day, it’s a sign of the candidate’s support in a state,” he said.
Michael Norton, spokesman for McCain in Colorado, said he believes Tuesday’s primaries and caucuses in 22 states will be decisive and won’t allow Colorado to grab the spotlight as it did in 1976, when Ronald Reagan went to Fort Collins to campaign personally for the votes that put him over the top in Colorado.
“I think there’s an enormous amount of interest in the campaigns this year. The turnout for Obama was incredible,” Norton said.