Colorado's first caucuses were modestly attended affairs that didn't have a sizable impact on the presidential choices of either major party. But turnout jumped four years ago, especially for the Democratic caucus that boosted Barack Obama. Predictably, Colorado Republican Party chairman Ryan Call is the opposite of an Obama fan. But he wouldn't mind emulating, and surpassing, the Dem's 2008 accomplishment for the February 7 Republican caucus -- and he's confident it'll happen.
Call was among the politicos advocating for the state's caucus to be moved up to a date well before Super Tuesday in March, before the GOP will have all but settled on a nominee. "I felt Colorado was in kind of a unique position, because we're a caucus state," he says. "The rules permit us to move up without suffering the penalty of losing delegates. And the way it's unfolded, Colorado will be a swing state for the general election -- so I thought it was important to have our voice in the conversation."
That seems likely to happen. While a couple of prominent candidates (Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann) have suspended their campaigns, plenty of others are still slugging it out. And as Call points out, Colorado and Minnesota, which is also holding a vote on February 7, will jointly represent the sixth major contest. "It's Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Nevada and then us," he notes.
The jump forward had other positive effects as well, in Call's view. "By moving the caucus up a month, it gave counties more breathing room for county and district assemblies and designating local candidates for the ballot. So it helped administratively in addition to the political advantage of being earlier in the calendar."
Call predicts participation will grow because so much is at stake from a presidential perspective. "I don't think our caucus will be determinative, but I do think it will be influential," he says. "I don't think the field will have completely coalesced by then. So I think it will add some additional momentum to some candidates or keep the contest alive for others. And when there's a vigorous contest going on, folks get engaged. Republican voters understand that they're not just picking a candidate. They're picking who they want to be the next President of the United States. And they're going to approach it with thoughtfulness and seriousness because of that."
Rick Santorum during an April 2011 visit to the GOP Club. Will the caucus draw more presidential hopefuls to Colorado?
Likewise, Call believes "we'll see participation across a broad spectrum of Republicans. A couple of years ago, the Tea Party movement brought some important energy to our side, and I think that was another reflection of a more broadly held sentiment -- that the government had gotten too big, that spending is out of control, that the federal debt is astronomical and continues to grow under Obama's watch, and that we need to change directions. And what I've seen over the last year or two is that the vast majority of Tea Party-oriented activists who got involved for the first time in the 2010 campaign have become more integrated within the Republican Party structure, and understand that in order to advance and impact the agenda and the process, the best way to do it is through the political party organization.
"That's really the most practical opportunity to defeat Barack Obama and change the direction of the country -- which is why I'm not seeing any kind of traction for a third party or independent-type run. Everybody knows that will only divert votes away from defeating Barack Obama in the fall."
At the same time, Call admits that no one among the current slate of Republican candidates has a monopoly on Colorado hearts and minds thus far. "The passion and enthusiasm I'm seeing is a passion to change the direction of the country by defeating Barack Obama," he allows. "And the engagement has been about who's going to be the strongest candidate to defeat Barack Obama and still be able to advance a philosophy of reform, economic growth, job creation and accountability back to government."
As for the nuts and bolts of taking part in the caucus, Call says, "The best way is for folks to show up at their local precinct caucus." There, attendees "will vote in the presidential preference poll as well as the election of committee people -- local party leaders who'll be responsible for coordinating voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts in your neighborhood for the next two years. Then they'll elect delegates from that precinct to attend assemblies and vote on the designation of candidates to the Republican primary election ballots."
Problem is, as Call acknowledges, "most counties are finalizing precinct boundaries this week, and some of the boundaries are a little bit in a state of flux. So we've developed a new system that will make it super-easy to find out what your caucus location is. You'll go to our new website" -- Caucus.ColoGOP.org -- "and put in your address to preregister. When the location is set, we'll send you an e-mail. You'll also have a contact person in your local county or neighborhood, and in the next couple of weeks, we'll be posting YouTube videos, FAQ documents and samples of what a caucus agenda looks like, so voters will become familiar with the caucuses work."
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Seeing politics up-close isn't always pretty -- but Call feels caucus virgins who give it a try will be pleasantly surprised. "If your only exposure to politics is what we see on the news and in those commercials, you'll like this system," he says. "This gives folks a chance to talk to their neighbors about the election and engage in dialogue that's going to be critical if we're going to turn this country around."
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