Caucuses signal official beginning of election season

Just as crocuses are beginning to stir under snow-packed lawns, Democrats and Republicans roused the grassroots at caucuses on Tuesday across the state, when thousands of voters convened in schools, churches and community centers to kick off the year’s election calendar.

Turnout on the Republican side — where multiple candidates are seeking the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial nominations — was significantly higher than among Democrats, who only have a few legislative primaries. While an official count wasn’t available at press time, some 25,000 registered Republicans caucused and roughly 5,000 Democrats showed up at the neighborhood meetings, party officials said.

Both conduct similar ground-level party business — designating precinct leaders, picking delegates to advance to county, district and state assemblies, gathering names of potential election judges and sending party platform planks up the ladder — the straw polls for top contested races conducted by Republicans in a dozen counties headlined the night.

Brochures touting Republican candidates — including a couple who had dropped from the race just days earlier — cover a table on caucus night March 4 in a classroom at Alameda International High School in Lakewood.

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner romped to a landslide win in the nonbinding, decidedly unscientific U.S. Senate straw poll, outpacing rivals Owen Hill and Randy Baumgardner, both state senators, and a handful of others seeking the chance to take on incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who is unopposed in his bid for nomination. Gardner, who only announced his run three days earlier, scored 83.6 percent of the unofficial vote, while Hill got 8.4 percent and Baumgardner got 5.2 percent, according to figures compiled by party officials.

Bonnie Streeter, a Lakewood Republican, fills out forms at her precinct caucus on March 4 at Alameda International High School. While surrounding caucuses were buzzing, it turned out that Streeter was the lone attendee at hers.

Results in the GOP’s gubernatorial field were less decisive, though Secretary of State Scott Gessler scored the win with 30.3 percent of the vote, followed by former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez at 22.5 percent, former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo at 15.7 percent, former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp at 14 percent, state Sen. Greg Brophy at 11.9 percent, Adams County Republican Party Chairman Steve House at 3.6 percent and rancher Roni Bell Sylvester at 1.3 percent. Gov. John Hickenlooper is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

Gubernatorial candidate Mike Kopp and his wife, Shannon, greet Republican district captain Lloyd Hoskins in the hallways of Alameda International High School in Lakewood on March 4 after visiting several precinct caucuses. “We’re just getting started, and I think Republicans are definitely ready to turn the page and put a fresh face into leadership for our state,” Kopp said.

“Grassroots isn’t just a word,” said Gessler spokesman Rory McShane. “It’s earning the respect and the trust of our party — and these results show Scott Gessler has done that. This also shows we’ve got the strongest campaign out there and we will win.”

State Senate candidate Mario Nicolais makes his case to a Republican caucus on March 4 at Alameda International High School in Lakewood. He’s vying against Tony Sanchez for the chance to run against incumbent Democratic state Sen. Andy Kerr in the Lakewood district.

The campaign manager for Beauprez, who entered the race on Monday and began campaigning on Tuesday, counted the strong second-place showing as a win.

Jo and Dick Bryant catch up with neighbors at their Democratic precinct caucus.

“We were amazed that after Bob was in the race for less than 12 hours, grassroots leaders from across the state took it upon themselves to stand up and speak about Bob’s vision for Colorado and why he should be our next governor,” said Dustin Olson. “We are excited and grateful to the caucus goers who wrote Bob’s name in to give him such great results.”

State Rep. Brittany Petterson, D-Lakewood, greets Democratic caucus-goers March 4 at Alameda International High School.
Photos by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

This year — different from the last three cycles when the GOP conducted preference polls statewide for presidential or Senate contests — county Republican parties had the option of whether to poll caucus attendees and could pick which races. The counties that conducted polls included Adams, Boulder, Broomfield, Douglas, Larimer, Montrose, Pueblo, Teller, Weld and Yuma. At press time, some of the counties had only reported partial results.

Other than bragging rights, the straw poll wins don’t mean much yet, as delegates selected at caucus will be the ones designating candidates to the June 24 primary ballot, either at county assemblies throughout March or at the state assembly on April 12. In addition, some of the candidates are gathering petition signatures to guarantee a spot on the ballot.

Officially, Democrats polled between Udall and “uncommitted” in a slightly different process to assign delegate slots to higher assemblies, though party officials said the vote was almost entirely for Udall. Precincts also polled preference at a few state House districts, where more than one Democrat is seeking the nomination for open seats, but party officials said at press time that the results weren’t certified yet so refused to release them.

“The fact that we don’t have very many contested races and people still turned out to have conversations with their neighbors says a lot,” observed Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio. “I think it’s a decent number for uncontested races. It’ll be a good number of people to plug into campaigns and get to volunteer as election season gets under way.” He added, “It was a very quiet night and I’m happy for it.”

Republicans, though, said their higher attendance figures portend well for party prospects.

“We are pleased,” crowed Owen Loftus, communications director of the Colorado Republican Committee. “These numbers show that Colorado Republicans are energized and ready to win in November. It’s also clear that Colorado Democrats are disenchanted with Sen. Udall and Gov. Hickenlooper’s failed records.”

Attendance was robust in the 6th Congressional District, where Democrat Andrew Romanoff, a former state House speaker, is challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican. Both campaigns said they were pleased with crowds.

“We had an overwhelming response with literally hundreds of volunteers signing up on caucus night to help,” said Tyler Sandberg, Coffman’s campaign manager. “All across the district, from Aurora to Highlands Ranch, supporters stood up to speak for Mike and prepare for the race ahead. The response we saw on caucus night leaves us feeling very confident about the state of this race.”

“Andrew crisscrossed the district on Tuesday night, rallying voters to build an economy that works for all of us,” said Denise Baron, Romanoff campaign spokeswoman. “Andrew addressed caucus-goers from 139 precincts, and his supporters brought Andrew’s message to every caucus location in the district. At each stop, the campaign picked up new volunteers — all of them ready to work and eager to win.”

At a Jefferson County GOP caucus held at Alameda International High School — Democrats held their caucuses for surrounding precincts in the cafeteria, while Republicans met in classrooms upstairs — a Lakewood woman was dutifully filling out the paperwork once it became clear she was the only one to attend.

Smiling, Bonnie Streeter said she’d expected at least a few other Republicans to show up, but that a friend was having surgery the next day, and wasn’t sure what happened to the others. Like the other nearby Republican caucuses, hers featured a table arrayed with brochures from candidates, including U.S. Senate pamphlets for Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck and state Rep. Amy Stephens, who both dropped out of that race after Gardner jumped in.

Pausing for a moment from her paperwork, Streeter glanced at the table piled with brochures and chuckled.

“Now you’ve got Cory Gardner running for the Senate, and Buck is running for Congress, and Stephens isn’t running for anything. And Beauprez jumping in today for the governor’s race,” she said. “I think it’s just wait and see.


See the March 7 print edition for full photo coverage.

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