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Political parties gear up for caucus season 2000

Presidential primary gladhanding is coming to Colorado, but tomorrow, Feb. 11, is the date to underline and circle, preferably with bright red ink.

That's because the Friday deadline marks the final day that wannabe donkeys and elephants can affiliate with their political parties to make a real difference -- in their party caucuses. Today is the last day Democrats and Republicans can register to vote in Colorado's March 10 presidential primary election.

Colorado's caucus system -- the way candidates are picked for the primary and general elections -- is designed to draw grass-roots activists out. During neighborhood gatherings, the people who show up to the meetings get to decide who will end up on the local and state ballots in November.

Then, representatives from the neighborhood gatherings are picked to go on to support those candidates at the county and state assemblies this spring and summer.

People unfamiliar with Colorado's system of electing candidates, who don't get involved, early often end up scratching their heads when they get inside the polling booth in November. There they sometimes wonder how the candidates they are considering were selected to represent their political party -- and become their elected representatives in the statehouse.


Twice as many elephants

El Paso County has more than twice as many registered Republicans (123,000) as Democrats (57,000). The GOP holds every single one of the county's partisan elected seats.

However, the region is also home to nearly 90,000 unaffiliated voters, who, if they want, can affiliate with the Democrats or Republicans and can be involved in the process of selecting candidates.

Caucus turnout is always better during presidential election years than in off years; however, both Republicans and Democrats have had a difficult time attracting activists.

"The caucus is a lot of trouble for us, but a lot of people say it prevents boss-style candidates from being selected by a few powerful people," said Mark Johnson, chairman of the local Democratic Party. "It can be a pain in the ass, but for better or for worse, it's grassroots turnout."

Johnson said that, unlike the Republican Party, which has in recent years been dominated by a highly organized right wing faction, local Democrats don't have a similar organized bloc of activists.

"We don't really have an organized left in El Paso County; it doesn't work that way for us," he said.

Several years ago, amid highly-publicized press accounts, many local moderate Republican activists threw in the towel and walked away from political activism after a core group of religious right conservatives -- whose key issue centered around opposing a woman's right to choose -- seized power from within the party structure.

The trend veered away from the more traditional issues that the county's Republican Party had highlighted -- like fiscal conservatism, local control and opposing federal mandates.

Local Democrats, meanwhile, have also had their share of problems. At times vicious party infighting -- and the fact they have not held any offices since 1996 -- has plagued El Paso County's minority party.


Find your precinct

Republican Party Chairman Chuck Broerman said most of El Paso County's 354 caucus precincts are held in voter polling places, including churches and schools. However, people can call Republican headquarters at 578-0022 to find out the exact location and times.

Broerman also expects the sites will also be posted on the Republicans' web page in coming weeks at http://Members.aol.com/gopelpaso/index.htm. People can also call GOP headquarters at 578-0022 for specifics.

As the Republicans, local Democrats hope to list caucus sites on their web page, at www.peakdems.org. Or, people can call headquarters at 473-8713 to find out where to go.

-- Cara DeGette


Up and running:

Senate District 10: Ron May vs. potential GOP candidates Kevin Tebedo and Douglas Bruce

Senate District 12: Andy McElhany (so far unchallenged)

House District 15: Republicans Bill Cadman and Dave Stiver have filed papers of interest

House District 16: Republican incumbent Bill Sinclair possibly challenged by Democrat newcomer Bill Young

House District 17: Republicans Mark Cloer and Steve Hester. Winner will face off against Democrat Ed Raye.

House District 18: Republican incumbent Doug Dean (So far unchallenged)

House District 19: Republican incumbent Richard Decker challenged by Republican David Stence

House District 20: Republican incumbent Lynn Hefley (So far unchallenged

House District 21: Republican incumbent Keith King facing possible challenge by Democrat Tony Marino

House District 22: Republicans Kent Olvey and David Schultheis, possibly challenged by Democrat Mike Merrifield


Important dates:

Feb. 10: Last day to register to vote in the Presidential primary

Feb. 11: Last day to affiliate with a party in order to vote in precinct caucus

Feb. 29: First day of early voting

March 7: Last day of early voting

March 10: Presidential primary election

April 11: Precinct caucus day

July 10: Last day to register for the Colorado primary election

Aug. 8: Colorado primary election

Nov. 7 General election day

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