Rifle is in the heart of the Republican Land. A party quorum in Rifle used to be two Democrats chatting in front of the post office. Since the 1990s, only three to five people had regularly attended Rifle-area Democratic precinct caucuses. At Tuesday night’s caucus, however, over 70 Democrats and unaffiliated voters showed up. Why was there over a twenty-fold increase? In one word, “change.”The Democratic caucus crowd represented a good sampling of residents living in Rifle: old and young; Anglo, African-American, Latino; women and men. Some were small-business owners and retirees; others were college students, administrators and city workers.
After a few speeches and a review of the rules, caucus attendees split up in their five individual precincts. There was a mix of Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and John Edwards supporters. Some came undecided. All were seeking a way to personalize presidential politics and to hear other opinions.
“I was undecided about who I supported for president,” Judy Kruper explained. “It was interesting to listen what people thought of the candidates.” She ended up voting for Obama because of the discussion with her caucus members.
Ernest Ricehill spoke for Clinton in his Precinct 23 caucus. “I think we need experience,” he told his fellow Democrats. “That sums up Hillary.”
Terry Kirk in Precinct 19 came to his first caucus on Tuesday. “I want change. I want Obama,” he said. Kirk used to be an unaffiliated voter but switched the day before the Dec. 5 deadline to become a Democrat so he could go to the caucuses.
John Scalzo, 89, has been a lifelong Democrat but hadn’t attended a caucus in over 20 years. “I’ve been voting since Truman,” he noted. Scalzo came out to back Clinton. “I’ve always stuck up for women.”
Although he had always been an unaffiliated voter, Craig Hager thought this year was going to be different, so he changed his voter registration to Democrat last fall. He originally had backed Sen. John Edwards but changed his mind at the caucus. Hager’s first experience at a caucus meeting was fruitful. “I got a chance to talk about politics at a grassroots level.”
Jonas Barker was a young unaffiliated voter, so he could only watch the caucus proceedings. “I never participated in politics before, but if Obama is on the presidential ticket, I will register as a Democrat,” he promised. Barker described himself politically as “middle of the road” but now he is contemplating how he can get involved with the Obama presidential campaign. He left with some campaign brochures.
A newcomer to Rifle, Nathan Lindquist, 27, said he enjoyed talking about politics with his precinct neighbors. “It means something to get involved in Colorado. I lived in North Carolina where the Electoral College votes always went Republican, so my vote for Democrats didn’t matter. This will be the first time my vote counts for something.”
For the five area precincts in Rifle, the unofficial delegate count was 10 delegates for Obama, six for Clinton. Looking ahead to the Garfield County Democratic Convention/Assembly, there was going to be a full delegate constituency from Rifle for the first time in years.
Sheri Neuroth, a local real estate agent, brought her two daughters, who were 10 and 12 years old. “These are historic times — like, who would have guessed our options would be a woman and a black man?” she asked. “So, I wanted my daughters to witness this change.”
Rifle-area Democrats filled up the elementary school cafeteria at Tuesday’s caucuses. Photo by Leslie Robinson.