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Caucuses convene Feb. 5; Precinct meetings on Super Tuesday pick delegates, discuss platforms

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By AJ Vicens

Feb. 3 may be Super Bowl Sunday, but two days later Super Tuesday will have a far more meaningful impact on the country’s future, and could go a long way in deciding the next president.

Colorado is one of 25 states where people affiliated with the Democratic or Republican parties will come together to decide which candidate the delegates will support at conventions this summer.

The method for selecting whom the delegates will support — and for picking the delegates themselves, for that matter — varies from state to state. In Colorado, it's a hybrid between the primary and the caucus system.

A caucus is a small, precinct-level gathering of party members where people discuss and vote on platform ideas, discuss presidential and local candidates, and elect delegates to the county assembly. A presidential candidate must reach a 15 percent threshold to earn a delegate from a caucus. At the county assembly, the platform is discussed and the delegates vote for candidates and delegates to represent the county and its candidate preferences at the state assembly, where delegates are elected for the national political conventions.

Colorado's system is a hybrid between a pure primary and a pure caucus. If more than one candidate — local or national — receives at least 30 percent of the delegate votes at the state assembly, a party primary then determines which candidate will earn the delegates from that party.

There are 71 Democratic delegates up for grabs in Colorado, and 46 Republican delegates. The Democratic nominee needs to earn 2,025 delegates nationwide to become the party's nominee, and the Republican nominee will have earned at least 1,191 nationwide.

So which system — a primary election or a caucus — is a better way of determining delegates for a nominee?

"One can make an argument for the caucus system, in theory," said Norm Provizer, a political science professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver. "It produces voter involvement. It takes a bit of commitment, people think about it and talk about it and, in some ways, it provides for deeper participation in the selection process than a simple election — in theory."In practice, the numbers tell us turnout — because it requires much more of a commitment — turnout rates at a caucus are lower than for a primary election," Provizer added. "In fact, it's good to say that we want people to have more of a commitment, but in practice that means that fewer people will participate."

Jeffco resident and Democratic activist Phil Perington is a big supporter of the caucus system.

"You get a chance to actually stand up and speak on behalf of the candidate you're supporting, and, even more important, that's where you have the opportunity to submit platform ideas," Perington said. He was part of Save the Caucus, a group that successfully campaigned against making Colorado a pure primary state in 2002, and he was the state Democratic Party chairman from 1997 to 1999.

Perington said the caucus system gives average people "access to a political system which is inherently closed to most people. It's like a rumbling tank, and you see it rumbling by and there's no way to get inside it."

Rutt Bridges and the Bighorn Center, a local liberal think tank, battled Perington and his group in an attempt to make Colorado a pure primary state in 2002. Bridges did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

On its website, the Bighorn Center says primaries would increase public participation by requiring that petitions be the uniform method for candidates to get on ballots.

"The Bighorn Center remains committed to the ideal that democracy works best when a large percentage of the population participates in the electoral process," the group says on the website.

John Wren, another local supporter of the caucus system, said that when the caucus system was at its strongest, "it made for a much better neighborhood." Wren has been involved with grassroots politics for much of his life, even serving as state chair of the College Republicans when strategist Karl Rove was the national chair. Wren says he is a Democrat now.

He said that if you don't get involved, you can't complain.

"If you think we've got poor leaders, and you didn't go to your caucus, you have no right to complain," Wren said. He added that, with the Democratic National Convention in Denver this August, more people might get involved.

Dick Barkey, chair of the Jeffco Democrats, said he supports the caucus system because it encourages conversation and, hopefully, education.

"If you picture somebody in a voting booth for a primary, it's a secret process, and they don't learn anything," Barkey said. "The value of the caucus is that people have an opportunity to discuss points of view in favor or opposing (their) candidate, and instead of pulling a lever and not learning anything, you learn something."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com. Visit www.columbinecourier.com for daily news updates.

To get involved in your party's caucus, you have to have been affiliated with the party no later than Dec. 5, 2007. If you're a Democrat, go to www.jeffcodems.org and click under the "Get involved" link on the right-hand side of the page. From there, click on the "Caucus Locater" link. If you're a Republican, visit www.jeffcogop.com, and look under the "Participate" section on the left-hand side of the page. You can look up caucus locations by precinct and by location.