Colorado gets a turn in the national spotlight; GOP caucuses are Tuesday

February 4, 2012
photo - Republican front-runner Mitt Romney greets the crowd at Springs Fabrication Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, after giving a speech in the factory next to the Colorado Springs Airport.  Photo by Christian Murdock/The Gazette
Republican front-runner Mitt Romney greets the crowd at Springs Fabrication Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, after giving a speech in the factory next to the Colorado Springs Airport. Photo by Christian Murdock/The Gazette 

It’s that time of year, when El Paso County’s Republicans to get together and…caucus!

Statewide, 70,000 to 80,000 Republicans will participate in Tuesday’s caucuses, said Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call.

There are 70 caucus locations in El Paso County, among 199 precincts. And roughly 1,500 people will be elected to go to the county assembly.

Those people will in turn help decide who gets the GOP nomination for president.

The caucus process is long and involved. The GOP caucuses will elect delegates to the county assembly, which is March 24. Delegates can go from the county assembly to the congressional district assembly on April 13, then to the state assembly on April 14, and finally the national convention in August.

The state parties don’t have a primary to determine which presidential candidates they support, as they do for state and congressional offices.

So, Republicans and Democrats pick a presidential candidate through the caucus system. (The Democratic Party caucus is March 6.)

And those delegates are vital at the national level.

That’s why such GOP candidates as Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney have appeared in Colorado recently, asking local Republicans to turn out and pick delegates who support them.

There also will be a straw polls conducted at the Tuesday caucuses, and though purely symbolic, candidates pay as much attention to the polls as if they were a binding primary, because they indicate what the results will likely be at the state assembly.

The caucusing process is actually a miniature version of real political campaigns — delegates must be nominated, and then can make their case as to why they should be elected, and then the caucus votes on who will be delegates. That’s the way it works, at every level, from the precincts on up.

There will be 3,821 delegates at the state GOP assembly from across Colorado, and El Paso County gets 642 of them. That’s by far the most of any county in the state. Number two is Jefferson County, with 283 delegates. That means El Paso will have clout at the assembly.

At the state assembly, the party will pick 12 delegates and 12 alternates to send to the national convention on Aug. 27. Those delegates will cast their votes for the candidate of their choice.

It’s important to note that the delegates are bound by nothing — they can change their minds at any time. It’s not uncommon for delegates to move their support from one candidate to another at national conventions, if it becomes clear that a particular candidate will win. When Hillary Clinton endorsed Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, hundreds of delegates who had pledged their support to her then voted for Obama.

This year, however, things will be confusing for El Paso County Republicans. Until this year, the county had 405 precincts, and now it’s less than half that because the districts have been redrawn for technical reasons. Which means that pretty much everyone is in a new precinct, and many people don’t know it. To vote at a precinct caucus, Republicans must be a resident of the precinct for 30 days, registered to vote no later than 29 days before the caucus, and affiliated with the political party for at least two months before the caucus.

If Republicans aren’t clear on where their precinct is meeting, they’ll likely wind up at the wrong location and miss their caucus altogether. That could create a furor, said County Party Chair Eli Bremer.

“We will have major problems on Tuesday,” Bremer said flat-out. “We’re going to have a lot of people saying, ‘I know what precinct I’m in, because I’ve gone to it for 30 years.’ We’re trying to get out the word that the precincts have changed.”

Republicans who are registered to caucus can learn which precinct they’re in at, Bremer said.

Attendees will be asked which candidate they prefer for the straw poll and the results will be announced Tuesday night.

The results, he said, could affect the campaign plans of the candidates and how much time they spend in El Paso County.

“It’s pretty darn important, even though it’s symbolic,” said Bremer.

Contact John Schroyer: 476-4825 Twitter @Johnschroyer

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