Just hours after the Dakota Ridge High School gym was packed with students raising money to fight cancer, it was filled again May 3 with another boisterous crowd.
But this time people from all walks of life were fighting for their presidential candidate, and vying for the opportunity to take that fight to the Democratic National Convention in August.
The 6th Congressional District Democratic Convention on May 3 took most of the day, with some people getting restless at the long waits. By the end of the day, however, five people were elected as delegates to the national convention in Denver this August — along with one alternate — and a candidate for the congressional seat currently held by Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo was chosen.
Sen. Barack Obama earned three delegates to Sen. Hillary Clinton's two. Robert Kihm, Marzette Bedford-Billinghurst and Paula Noonan will represent the district and vote for Obama at the national convention. Rebecca McClellan and John Petty will cast the district's votes for Clinton.
The five convention delegates were elected out of 582 candidates from Jefferson, Park, Elbert, Douglas and Arapahoe counties.
Hank Eng, a Democrat from Arapahoe County, emerged as the Democratic candidate for the 6th Congressional District. AJ Clemmons was elected as the Democratic candidate for CU Regent. Clemmons is the community relations ombudsman for the Office of Independent Monitor, an independent civilian oversight group of the Denver police and sheriff departments.
Eng says that this year's record turnout for the caucuses bodes well for his candidacy in the district.
"The numbers on Feb. 5 far exceeded what anyone thought," Eng said. "Among independents, there has to be the same fever pitch wanting change."
Republicans have a big numbers advantage over Democrats in the district (216,204 to 120,528), but there's a large bloc of unaffiliated voters the candidates will fight over (155,345).
Eng said his fight will be "somewhat easier" after the party has a presidential nominee, but he wants people to know that he's willing to go anywhere in the district to meet with people and make his pitch.
"I have to get people to know that I am a viable candidate, and I can do what it takes to represent, and represent them well, with integrity," Eng said.
After earning a management engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic University, Eng joined the Peace Corps in 1972. After that, he joined the U.S. Agency for International Development as a project engineer in East Africa until 1983. He then earned an aviation degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and began a 20-plus-year career with GE Aircraft Engines that took him to Pakistan, China and the Soviet Union. During that time he completed the Executive MBA Program at Rutgers University, and he returned to the U.S. in 2000. In 2003, he was elected to the Appleton City Common Council in Wisconsin and served on the Community Development Committee, and was named to the board of directors for the Appleton Public Library.
He is an active member of the Colorado Wing of the Civil Air Patrol and is a licensed commercial pilot and instructor.
This convention was the first for hundreds of attendees.
"I've voted Democratic for many years, but this is the first time I've gone through the caucus," said Michael Harris of Pine Junction.
Harris had mixed reviews of the caucus system and the May 3 convention.
"As far as the caucus, it's good to come down and see the Democrats running for office, but it's more convenient just to have the primary. I kind of prefer the primary," Harris said. He added that whoever comes out of the national nominating process should have the support of the whole party, because right now "there's too much infighting."
"I hope they can get on the same ticket even though there's so much polarity right now," Harris said. "It's the only way we can get unity."
One of the hundreds of potential delegates May 3 said he came out to support Obama.
"Obama inspired me, and I really haven't felt this optimistic about our country since the Vietnam War ended," said Donald Kipp of South Jeffco. "He's inspired a lot of people and touched a lot of hearts. He's the only way to get change in this country. We have to bring more consensus, not just 51 percent."
State Party Chair Pat Waak spoke to the potential alternates who were seated in the notably quieter auditorium.
"This is what creating democracy is about," Waak said. "The fact that you're hear as alternates is really impressive."
Waak implored the crowd — the vast majority of whom would not even get the chance to attend the national convention — to stay involved from the top down.
"The first thing was to get rid of Tom Tancredo," Waak said to loud applause. "It's going to be a very hot race on the Republican side. Just let them tear each other up. That's fine with us. We have a chance to make CD6 a Democratic seat."
A four-way primary is shaping up among the Republicans trying to replace the outgoing Tancredo.
Jennifer Herrera, the CD6 chair and the woman responsible for organizing the May 3 convention, thinks this year Democrats can buck the trend and avoid merely running a sacrificial lamb.
"Every time we run a candidate who's good, if we can get their message out to the people of this district, in time they will come to realize we have the same values," Herrera said. "We all love America."