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El Paso County caucuses push candidates' chances forward

March 6, 2018 Updated: March 7, 2018 at 7:05 am
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Amy Roth Sandrolini, left, and Douglas Sharp look over the sign in sheets to see who attended for precinct 729, The Broadmoor Bluffs area, as the Democratic party held their some of their caucus precincts at the Cheyenne Mountain Junior High School on Tuesday March 6, 2018 in Colorado Springs. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

Republicans and Democrats fanned out across El Paso County in droves Tuesday night for party caucuses.

At Cheyenne Mountain Middle School, Republicans were outnumbered. The school hosted 11 Democratic caucuses and three Republican ones.

Democrat Pat Lehouillier, 70, said he was at the caucus for Precinct 729 to support Cary Kennedy for governor.

"I think it comes down to a choice between Cary Kennedy and Jared Polis. I believe Cary is more electable," Lehouillier said. "We're not a solid blue state. We're a purple state, and she's more appealing to the middle of the state."

Kennedy was the gubernatorial candidate who Democratic caucus-goers in the county favored most, according to preliminary results from preferential polls taken at the gatherings.

Kennedy earned 661 votes from caucus participants, Polis earned 488, Mike Johnston earned 132, Noel Ginsburg earned 12, Erik Underwood earned 17 and 39 people said they were uncommitted, county Democratic Party Chairwoman Electra Johnson told The Gazette late Tuesday. All precinct results were reported by about 10:30 p.m.

Chris Caunt, 68, said he came to contribute to the Democratic Party's platform, especially on gun control and health care.

"This is where you can initially voice your real opinion of what you think your party should be. This is where it starts," he said. "I'm aghast at what's going on at the federal level right now, and I want to do everything I can to turn the House and Senate."

State Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, was cordially greeted by a group of Democrats.

"We play nice," one quipped. Replied Gardner: "So do we."

One man encouraged voters from Precinct 721 to choose a candidate voters will elect.

That precinct's straw poll for governor gave U.S. Rep. Jared Polis 10 votes and former state treasurer Cary Kennedy nine.

But Kennedy forged ahead with eight votes in Precinct 724, compared with four for Polis and four for Noel Ginsberg.

And in Precinct 726, all 19 voters opted for Kennedy.

"I think we were pleasantly surprised that we got 100 percent for her," said Deborah Adams.

Sarah Hautzinger said she arrived and left the Precinct 722 caucus a Kennedy supporter.

"The conversation actually just affirmed my support for her," said Hautzinger, an anthropologist who teaches at Colorado College and comes by her Democratic roots honestly.

Hautzinger is the daughter of the late Denver Post Editorial Page Editor Sue O'Brien, who was Gov. Dick Lamm's press secretary and managed Gov. Roy Romer's campaign.

Precinct 722 also passed platform resolutions to protect public lands and combat climate change and racial discrimination, Hautzinger said.

"The blue wave can rise," she said, "even in El Paso County."

The GOP caucus precinct 205 talks about who wants to volunteer as the two state delegates and the two alternates at the Eagleview Middle School on Tuesday March 6, 2018 in Colorado Springs. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).  

At the Republican caucus at Eagleview Middle School, Mark Spengler said the caucus system provides a grassroots approach to politics.

"If I've got $1 million and I want to run for office, I can just buy the media and I don't have to go out," Spengler said. But caucuses "force the people that want to serve us to go out and press the flesh."

One elected official pressing the flesh at Eagleview was state Sen. Kent Lambert, who voiced support to re-elect U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn and elect state Rep. Kevin Lundberg as state treasurer.

Spengler said he wants Sheriff Bill Elder re-elected and supports state Rep. Terri Carver.

Polite disagreements popped up in Republican precincts, too.

Reginald Ash said he backs Owen Hill to unseat Lamborn, but Spengler favors the incumbent.

Ash said he met Hill during his stint as commanding officer at the Air Force Academy.

"While a lot of cadets were trying to sneak around and get away with whatever they could, that was not Owen," Ash said. "Owen would regularly challenge me in the sense of trying to learn from me."

But Spengler said, "Frankly, for me, (Lamborn) is the exception to term limits. I've watched his votes to the point where in all of the pro-family, pro-defense, pro-conservative kinds of areas, he's got a 100 percent rating."

Participants did agree that the GOP must unite for this election.

"In the end, unless you want Gov. Polis, it's a straight red ticket," Sebastian said.

County GOP head Cassandra Sebastian said she expected 4,000 Republicans to caucus throughout the county.

One woman said Republicans were lucky in past years to see four people at the caucus. She thanked the dozens who showed Tuesday night.

"This is a major turnout," Sebastian agreed.

"Obama did something for us," the woman quipped, as fellow Republicans nodded.

Party members in every precinct were selecting delegates bound for assemblies, where they'll nominate candidates at all levels.

Democrats didn't expect results of their statewide poll for governor until the wee hours, but it could prove decisive for some hoping to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

But candidates won't be chosen until April 14, when the delegates convene in assembly.

Colorado candidates also can get on the ballot by petitioning, and all major candidates except Kennedy were using that method, as is Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, a gubernatorial candidate who is skipping the caucus and assembly process.

Republicans didn't record official votes Tuesday night, though some precincts held straw polls. Instead, they chose delegates to go to county assemblies throughout the rest of March and the state assembly April 14, as well as district assemblies along the way.

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Colorado Politics contributed to this story.

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