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A caucus? Here?

Party faithful prepare for a busy Super Tuesday

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Mike Maday (left) and other Barack Obama supporters - discuss caucus details and strategy on Saturday. - ANTHONY LANE
  • Anthony Lane
  • Mike Maday (left) and other Barack Obama supporters discuss caucus details and strategy on Saturday.

Remember TV shots a couple weeks ago of hundreds packing gyms and libraries during Iowa's caucuses?

That doesn't happen here, points out John Morris, chair of the El Paso County Democratic Party.

Most of the time, 10 people showing up for a Democratic caucus in the county is a big deal. Many precincts hold caucus night without a single participant. Two people make for a relative crowd.

Of course, the circumstances are different this year. Colorado's caucuses will happen Feb. 5, a national "Super Tuesday" on which more than 20 states will vote or caucus for the contender of their dreams.

Morris says the potential for crowds at this year's caucuses is, in some ways, intimidating.

"I feel like I'm standing on a beach with a tidal wave coming at me," he says with a dry laugh.

The wave has inspired many to seek crash courses in caucusing mechanics and etiquette.

It's Saturday, and 14 people have already shown up for a practice caucus at Penrose Library hosted by the Democratic Party's Latino Initiative. Seven Republicans have also gathered at Penrose to learn the nuts and bolts of being precinct chairs.

Now, just after 1 p.m., 18 Barack Obama supporters crowd their candidate's local headquarters for a training geared specifically at seeing Democratic precincts come out in his favor.

Colin Walsh, an official "organizer" with Obama's campaign, asks the group how many have ever been to a caucus.

Only two raise their hands, and one happens to be the volunteer coordinating Obama's El Paso County efforts.

Walsh, a 22-year-old Colorado College graduate, nods reassuringly.

"That's fairly typical," he says. "Actually, it's a high percentage."

Colorado's caucus system dates to the late 1800s, according to Bob Loevy, a Colorado College political science professor, but it has evolved over the years.

It started as a way to pick candidates for November ballots, with small groups of residents gathering to select delegates to carry their views to county and state assemblies. The delegates later voted for the party's nominees.

In Colorado, the system eventually fused with a primary system. Instead of nominees, delegates would pick the names of candidates whose names would go on primary ballots.

The system gave Coloradans little say in selecting each party's presidential nominee, so in 1992 and 1996 the state held presidential primaries. That gave people a voice: In 1992, Jerry Brown bested Paul Tsongas among the state's Democrats, a victory some said might actually have shifted momentum in the campaign toward Bill Clinton.

The state dropped its presidential primary for 2000. Loevy suggests the motivation was likely saving money.

This year, both parties are adopting caucus preference polls, much like those used in Iowa. Republicans and Democrats will use their own procedures to translate the picks of their caucus-goers into a statewide "vote" on the contenders.

"One nice thing is, it looks like the decision will not have been made, so Colorado's vote will be meaningful," Loevy says optimistically.

Loevy's more pragmatic when asked how the parties are going to manage these caucuses come Feb. 5.

"We're about to see," he says.

lane@csindy.com

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