It was about as grassroots as one can get in Democratic politics at the Garfield County Democratic convention and assembly in Rifle on Saturday. Many of the delegates were first-time participants in Colorado’s caucus and convention system. The Beltway political scene may be far away yet these delegates thoughtfully weighed in on a question hitting the Sunday TV news talk shows and political pundit columns: is this hotly contested Democratic presidential primary good for the party? Delegates for Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama, former Sen. John and Edwards and even one undecided swarmed into the auditorium for perhaps the biggest convention the county party has ever seen — 101 participants. The presidential race between Obama and Clinton was a hot topic.
Gisela Koplin from Glenwood Springs is a Clinton supporter. “I think we should change the primary system which seems more like a beauty contest,” she said. “This hurts the American people when they might be getting a popular candidate but not the best one for the ticket. I’m concerned about the infighting, too.”
Obama supporters Jo and Amy, who asked not to have their last names used, said the process was no longer good for the party. “We can’t take a chance to lose the presidency,” Jo warned.
“It was important initially to have the primary and caucus races, but now there is too much negative campaigning that could hurt the Democrats,” Amy added.
Chris Lazo from Silt disagreed. He thought the current tight Democratic presidential race was as “good as it gets.” However, he wished the candidates would talk more about their platforms. “I’m looking for substance, not personality,” said Lazo, a Clinton delegate. “I hope they will rise above the nastiness.”
A seventh-grader from Carbondale, Elle, had accompanied her father, John Shamis, an Obama supporter, to the county convention. Although Elle wasn’t a delegate, she was willing to weigh in on the Democratic presidential race. “It’s pointless to fight to the death when Clinton and Obama have the same opinions,” she said, adding, “and it’s kinda stupid.”
Although Edwards has suspended his presidential campaign, Dana Barker from Parachute was coming into the county convention to support him. Barker wasn’t sure if the close presidential primary between Clinton and Obama would strengthen the party in the end. “I’m afraid both sides are getting too passionate about their candidate. The supporters on the eventual losing side might be repelled from ever getting involved with politics again,” he warned. “The eventual Democratic candidate could end up with a split party.”
Other delegates disagreed with the assessment that the competitive Democratic presidential race was detrimental to the party’s success in November against Republican Sen. John McCain.
“I think this primary race shows we have great candidates,” Elana from New Castle said. “People like a horse race.”
Joe from Carbondale agreed. “I don’t believe this hurts the party at all and gives our candidates a lot of attention.” He felt that Democrats will get behind the eventual winner.
Both were Obama supporters. They preferred not having their last names mentioned.
Greg Sisk from Glenwood was the only undecided delegate at the county assembly. He wasn’t sure Obama could carry the South where Sisk was originally from. “You still hear the ‘nigger’ word down there a lot,” he noted. However, Sisk wasn’t convinced Clinton would do well in the West. “So I came to the county convention to hear what people had to say about the two candidates to help me make a decision.” He thought the tight primary race was bad and good.
“The Democrats could get in trouble if Clinton and Obama go really negative,” Sisk warned. “But all the attention on the Democratic candidates is a benefit because it takes McCain out of the spotlight.”
Top photo: A straw vote for Sen. Clinton. Bottom photo: An Obama supporter at the Garfield County Democratic convention. By Leslie Robinson