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Caucuses draw record crowds

Collin Smith

Poll results

Republican caucuses

Total votes 235

Mitt Romney 112

John McCain 62

Ron Paul 34

Mike Huckabee 27

Democrat caucuses

Total votes 94

Barack Obama 62

Hillary Clinton 32

— As predicted by local political leaders, the 2008 presidential race proved enticing for local voters.

Although Gene Bilodeau, Colorado Northwest Community College Craig campus dean, had never attended a caucus before, his views on the state of the nation compelled him to attend and discuss issues with his neighbors.

“In my mind, this is as bad as I’ve seen the economy, although here in Northwest Colorado, we’re kind of insulated from that,” Bilodeau said. “I’m disappointed with the war in Iraq and how that’s been handled. I think there’s a real chance for some change here.”

Moffat County Democrats Chairman Ted Crook’s hopes for change came true. The Democratic caucuses drew record crowds.

Brian Baxter, Democrats treasurer, estimated there were about 90 people at the Center of Craig and a few more Democratic precincts in Dinosaur and Maybell.

Because there were so many more people than expected, organizers had to run out and bring more sign-in sheets for voters.

“We’re not used to this large a crowd,” Baxter said.

Long-time Democrat Greg Smith, 60, attended his first caucus Tuesday.

His reason for being there: He didn’t want to see Moffat County throw its support behind the wrong candidate.

“I don’t want to see Hillary in,” Smith said. “There are too many things in her background I don’t like. If it were any other woman, I wouldn’t have a problem.”

Linda and Jeff Goffe attended their first caucus for the same reason, but in support of a different candidate.

“This country is in a pretty sad state of affairs, in my opinion,” Jeff said. “I don’t think we need somebody so inexperienced (such as Obama) as opposed to someone with more experience. Up to this point, I hadn’t really paid too much attention to their policies because they never seem to pan out when they get to office anyways.”

Linda said she came because her husband convinced her, but the couple didn’t try to convince any friends, Jeff said.

“I guess I don’t know too many Democrats,” he said with a smile.

At the largest Republican precinct – Precinct 1 at Ridgeview Elementary School – organizers said attendance was about average.

Ron Danner, Moffat County Republican Central Committee chairman said he normally sees large crowds when there are heated local elections. This year, there are no contested local races on the Republican side, he added.

About 40 residents attended that caucus, which organizers pointed out was one of 13 GOP caucuses around the county.

Matt Warner, his wife, Evige, and their newborn attended what was their first caucus at Ridgeview. The couple have been registered Republicans as long as they’ve been voters. They moved to Colorado in November.

They lived in Nebraska, which conducts a primary vote, until that time.

Having participated in both formats, the couple prefers a primary, but can see the appeal in caucusing.

“One thing I don’t like about (caucuses) is our vote doesn’t really count,” Matt said. “I love the caucus idea. I think it’s good to meet your neighbors and get to know them. I would prefer our vote actually count.”

The Warners chose to give their support to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Of all the Republican candidates, Matt said, he’s the most conservative.

“I love his economic ideas (and) his moral stances,” he said.

Corrie Ponikvar, Precinct 1 chairman, would prefer a primary vote, as well, she said.

“Truly, we should press our legislators to pay for being part of Super Tuesday and having a primary,” Ponikvar said. “In my view, this is an antiquated process.

“I believe we would have more participation if we went to a primary. People can go vote instead of spending a few hours after work at a meeting. For our community, people have shift work, and they can’t participate.”

The Colorado Legislature organized primary votes in the 1992 and 1996 elections, but is widely believed to have done away with that system because of cost concerns.

Kyle Saunders, Colorado State University associate professor in political science, believes party politics also might be a factor.

“The caucuses are indeed cheaper to run,” he said. “Another reason could also be that caucuses are regarded as being better for the state parties than the primaries. The caucus activates partisans more than the primaries do, especially those on the ideological extremes, and gives the parties more control over the process.”

Saunders believes Colorado’s caucus system disenfranchises voters by not letting them vote directly for the candidate of his or her choice, but said the system is not new or unique to Colorado.

“The Electoral College also functioned this way until many states bound electors to the state’s preferences,” Saunders said. “There are still states where ‘faithless’ electors can change their vote.”

Despite concerns about the process by some, organizers from both parties enjoyed being a part of the political process, they said, even on the Democratic side, where the numbers impressed and somewhat overwhelmed local party officers.

“It went pretty smooth here considering the way it’s done,” Crook said. “Democracy should be chaotic.”


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