Gardner’s candidacy expected to energize GOP caucuses

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner’s entry may clarify the GOP’s U.S. Senate race picture, but don’t expect results in that race or the governor’s race after Tuesday’s caucuses.

That’s because preference polls for those and other offices will be optional, at the choosing of individual county parties. And the state party won’t be tallying any straw poll results.

It’s a switch from 2010, when then-GOP chairman Dick Wadhams instituted the statewide straw poll.

“If we’re going to have precinct caucuses, we ought to make them stand for something,” Wadhams said.

But the GOP executive committee voted in late January to make the poll optional after requests from some county leaders.

“The counties were split on it, so we just decided to let the counties decide whether they wanted to do it or not,” said GOP spokesman Owen Loftus. “There’s a lot of work that they have to do on caucus night. This was just something additional.”

Even without straw polls, the caucuses still serve to elect delegates to county and state assemblies who will nominate candidates for the primary election in June. Loftus said he doesn’t know which counties will poll caucus-goers on this year’s two top races — those for U.S. Senate and governor.

Democrats will conduct straw polls, even though incumbents U.S. Mark Udall and Gov. John Hickenlooper aren’t facing primary challengers. Instead, caucus-goers will be polled on Udall versus uncommitted,” i.e. those who aren’t supporting Udall. They’ll also poll on local and regional races that county parties select.

“I like this year that we don’t have a statewide contested race,” said Democratic Party Executive Director Jennifer Koch. “It’s helping candidates down the ballot. It’s helping them get a chance to organize.”

In Eagle County, for example, caucus-goers will be polled in a three-way county commissioner race. In Denver, contenders for competitive state House races will be considered.

Both parties’ caucuses will elect delegates to county and state assemblies, and those delegates often commit to specific candidates. Secretary of State Scott Gessler took the opportunity at a recent Broomfield patriot group meeting, for instance, to ask the 30-some attendees to go to caucuses and support him through the state GOP assembly.

Party platforms also begin to take shape at the caucuses, which are held at the precinct level.

Republicans are taking pre-registrations for Tuesday’s caucuses.

“We’ve seen a huge preregistration bump” since Gardner’s announcement, Loftus said. “People are excited.”

Even with Rep. Cory Gardner’s entrance into the U.S. Senate race this week,  a GOP primary is still likely given that state Sen. Owen Hill has said he’ll continue his candidacy.

Democratic caucus locations are listed here.

 Democrats and Republicans who plan to caucus on Tuesday must have been registered with their respective party for two months.

In addition to caucuses’ role in helping gauge the electability of candidates, they fire up activists  for the upcoming election season.

“A huge part of our infrastructure is based on our caucuses,” Koch said. “We get our donors from caucuses. We get our volunteers from caucuses. This is about being part of your neighborhood precinct and talking with your neighbors. It’s about that community organization that is such a strong part of our Colorado spirit.”

The Democratic Party website suggests that caucus organizers “Bring food-cookies-punch-coffee or host a potluck” to lighten up what otherwise might be a snoozer of an event. 

Caucuses get more attention in presidential years, when straw polls serve as an informal presidential primary. But four years ago, the GOP meetings drew many new participants from  Tea Party and patriot groups angered by the election of President Barack Obama.

“There were a lot of different people who hadn’t taken part in politics,” Loftus said. “It was a wave of voters saying, ‘Hey, let’s get back to what our Constitution says, let’s stop the overreach of the federal government.’ ”

As Loftus tells it, the crowded field of six GOP Senate candidates and seven gubernatorial contenders isn’t worrisome.

“Each of these candidates have a chance to win,” Loftus said. “They’re going to have to make their case to the assembly if they’re going the assembly route.”

At state, county, legislative and congressional assemblies held by April 12, candidates must garner at least 30 percent of delegates to make the Jun 24 primary ballot. But some candidates are petitioning on to the ballot, with all petitions due at the end of March.

Those planning to petition include Senate contenders Hill and Mark Aspiri, and gubernatorial candidates Tom Tancredo, Steve House and Roni Bell Sylvester. Each candidate must get 1,500 valid  signatures from each of seven congressional districts to qualify for the ballot.

Koch said the crowded field could be problematic for the GOP.

“I think that is speaking highly to the disunity in the Republican Party ranks right now,” she said. “One issue when you have a crowded primary is unifying the electorate afterwards.”

Loftus disagreed.

“What we are seeing is Republicans, across the board, they’re ready to win,” he said. “They’re ready to work to elect a conservative Republican.”

[Photo by  House GOP]