After months of watching the presidential race on TV, with only a few scattered "live" campaign-related events in the area, Colorado voters finally have the chance to influence the outcome.
It's just not as easy here. Instead of a presidential primary, Colorado is among the few conducting caucuses. That's the format, for Republicans and Democrats separately, of course, on Feb. 5, as our state joins 23 others taking part in Tsunami Tuesday.
Instead of having all day to vote (or submitting an absentee ballot), voters must participate in their local party precinct caucus, often at schools or churches, starting at 7 p.m. on Feb. 5. The gathering, lasting up to 90 minutes, gives you a chance to meet neighbors sharing your political registration.
The Independent marks the occasion with a ringing endorsement and a halfhearted recommendation. Most importantly, our first concern is encouraging everyone to make their voices heard on an evening when far fewer than 10 percent of registered voters will likely participate.
We'd prefer an old-fashioned primary, and we support any effort for Colorado to go that way in 2012. But for now, our only choice is to embrace caucus participation. Sure, it'll be different, but also educational and, we hope, rewarding.
The best part of this Democratic presidential race is having a choice, even after the field has narrowed with John Edwards the latest withdrawal after the demise of Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, Chris Dodd and Joseph Biden.
Democrats have two remaining options: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But Obama's inspiring theme "Yes, we can" has brought a freshness to the campaign.
On the significant issues, there is no real gulf separating the two U.S. senators, both of whom are sharp lawyers. The true strength of any president lies in assembling a gifted, diverse nucleus of top officials and advisers, and either front-runner would recruit a "super team" (with the same pool available to both) for the next administration.
For us, Obama's skills as a community organizer, his multiracial and international background, his ability to inspire 18- to 35-year-olds to vote (many for the first time) and his zeal to end partisan pandering provide America with the best chance to undo the damage President Bush has inflicted. We also like that the Obama campaign has a staffed Pikes Peak campaign office, which has superbly mobilized and educated local citizens.
We acknowledge Clinton's experience, but she has overplayed that hand with the exaggeration that she's been "doing this for 35 years." And we wish she would have muzzled her husband before he manipulated and twisted Obama's record. A former president should be a statesman, not a player in gutter politics.
For the past 20 years, the Oval Office has been occupied by a Bush or a Clinton. At this point in our history, we need a new vision. A Clinton presidency would be focused on the possible, based more on poll numbers and efficient compromises, while Obama has the Robert Kennedy-like ability to unite and uplift our polarized nation, to restore our government's moral leadership at home and throughout the world, and to use his fresh, exciting energy and vision to rally Americans to be all they can be.
This is just a suggestion, because no leading Republican contender has articulated plans to extricate American troops from a misguided, costly war. And most candidates have endorsed Bush's irresponsible fiscal and monetary policies.
Accordingly, by supporting Rep. Ron Paul, we urge local Republican caucus-goers to send a message to the GOP to reform itself. Paul has been a thorn in the GOP's side during his 16 years as a Texas congressman with libertarian leanings.
Paul, who has generated grassroots support in Western states, pledges to quickly extract us from Iraq. He has been a vocal critic of the Patriot Act as well as America's misguided War on Drugs.
Perhaps most significantly, he's a legitimate fiscal conservative. Funny, but fiscal restraint used to be a Republican hallmark. After years of runaway spending and unchecked government growth, supporting Paul is a clarion call for the GOP to rediscover its roots.
Paul has no chance of winning, but if he can repeat his second-place showing from Nevada, it will send a strong message that the GOP should again become the party of government restraint, favoring environmental stewardship, civil liberties and local power over federal intrusion.
The first question is whether you're registered to vote as a Democrat or Republican. If you are, keep going. If not, the deadline has passed, and you'll have to wait until Colorado's summer primary.
For those still needing information, let's break it down by party. Both sides have pre-trained precinct captains who will guide everyone through the process and make it easier for newcomers to participate.
More good news: Voting for the presidential straw poll will be early on the agenda, so results can be passed along to the county.
Check online at gopelpaso.com for links to your precinct and caucus location. If you don't know your precinct number, call the county clerk and recorder's office at 575-8683 (VOTE) or the county Republican headquarters at 578-0022.
At the caucus, you can help select representatives for the county assembly as well as the 5th District congressional assembly significant because U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn is being challenged by Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn.
Some caucuses will be larger, and thus go on longer, than others. But officials say no caucus should extend beyond 90 minutes.
The site for El Paso County Democrats is peakdems.org, where you can find caucus locations. Call the party's county office at 473-8713 or the county clerk and recorder at 575-8683 (VOTE) to find out your precinct number and caucus location.
After the presidential straw poll, as with the GOP, these caucuses will have an agenda that includes selecting leaders and delegates to higher-level gatherings.
Since the Dems' numbers are smaller in most precincts, their caucuses should move more quickly.