Colorado’s GOP may have cancelled the presidential straw poll, but that didn’t stop some Jefferson County Republicans in Lakewood from trying to weigh in on who their party’s candidate would be.
What many ignored at the GOP caucus I attended at Bear Creek High School was one critical national race these voters could influence — which of roughly 13 Republican U.S. Senate candidates would make it to the ballot. The subject was briefly mentioned, then dropped.
This particular precinct caucus took place just blocks away from the district of the national GOP establishment’s favored Senate hopeful Jon Keyser, indicating his run against Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet might be irrelevant to the grassroots, who focused on the Donald Trump-Ted Cruz-Marco Rubio triumvirate instead.
A few pieces of campaign literature from four of 13 Senate candidates sat on a table. They were there when people entered to caucus. They were there when people left. And no Senate candidates, including the two (including Sen. Tim Neville) who live in the county, showed up to stump for financial support or volunteers.
The event opened with an explanation of why voters wouldn’t choose a presidential nominee, and that their business was in choosing delegates. But caucus goers quickly concluded they wanted their delegates to know what they thought, and that meant rebelling against the state party mandate and talking about the national GOP candidates.
Voters did complete some party business. They decided who would represent them at the county, congressional district and state conventions later this spring. But which Senate candidate would those delegates take with them to the conventions? Tim Neville? Jon Keyser? Someone else? Who knows?
These JeffCo voters didn’t seem to care.
By August, said one woman, the presidential race will in all likelihood be decided. Trump will have the delegates he needs. Colorado’s delegates won’t matter, she said.
Voters in the caucus I attended were quiet and polite but also frustrated. Most were white and no one appeared under 40.
Gerald Davis was among those who wanted to vote for president, but for whom? He told his fellow caucus goers that he was backing businessman Donald Trump, with “shaky” support.
The presidential race for everyone in the room was down to just the three front-running candidates: Trump, Rubio and Cruz. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson received no votes in the rebellious straw poll taken halfway through the evening.
There was no consensus pick for president. Rubio came the closest, but “undecided” won the night, giving delegates little guidance.
In another precinct, according to voter Stacia Kuhn, Rubio and Cruz came out on top with Trump a distant third.
Some voters said they fear what will happen if Trump is the party’s nominee, and scolded those who might choose not to vote at all. But Randy Nation, the caucus chair who was also elected as a delegate, encouraged his fellow Republicans to support the party’s nominee.
“Not voting is a vote for the other side,” he said, to murmurs of agreement.
The state GOP decided last August that Republican voters should not choose a GOP presidential nominee. That was based on a decision by the Republican National Committee that said a state’s delegates would be required to support the candidate that wins the caucus votes.
Colorado’s GOP officials did not want their delegates to be bound to those decisions, based partly on what happened in 2012 when former Sen. Rick Santorum won the state caucus but dropped out of the race before the convention.
Davis later told The Independent that he was discouraged and frustrated by the Republican National Committee’s decision.
“This should be representative government all the way through,” he said, noting that when the RNC made their decision, “they didn’t replace it with anything useful.” But Davis said he still enjoys participating in the caucus.
So do Barbara and Liz, two voters who didn’t want to give their last names. They enjoyed being around like-minded people, even if they don’t all agree on who should be president.
“Normally I like an end result,” Liz said. She’s down to two choices: Rubio and Trump. “I believe in what Trump says he wants to do.” But his way of doing it? Not so much. She worries his abrasive style will harm international relations.
Barbara echoed many GOP candidates criticisms of the media, saying it hasn’t done its job in helping voters learn what’s true. Most people don’t have a clue about what a caucus is, and many vote out of emotion or ignorance, not because they have good information, she said.
So what happens after caucus?
“Tonight you go home because there’s no resolution. We’ll go home tonight and see what the other states did,” added Liz.
Reportedly, other statewide Republican caucus also shrugged off party mandates to focus on business other than the presidential race. In those districts where people discussed the Senate race, conservative state Sen. Tim Neville fared well.
Photo credit: Benh LIEU SONG, Creative Commons, Flickr.
Correction: to note that caucus location was near Keyser’s district, not in it.