Democratic dreamers 

In struggle to represent, would-be delegates find little glory but big meaning

click to enlarge At 18, Ben Taber looks the part of veteran delegate. - L'AURA MONTGOMERY
  • L'Aura Montgomery
  • At 18, Ben Taber looks the part of veteran delegate.
Friday afternoons line to register for the Colorado Democratic State Convention and Assembly doesnt seem to be moving, so Ben Taber periodically steps away to do a little campaigning. The Colorado Springs 18-year-old hands out cards declaring himself a lifelong Democrat and advertising his role as a precinct captain for Sen. Barack Obamas presidential bid.

Vote Ben Taber for Obama Delegate, read the cards.

Judi Ingelido, a retired middle school principal wearing an array of buttons for Sen. Hillary Clinton, happens to stand next to his place in line. Months earlier, she had spoken up at her caucus on the Colorado College campus, listing Clintons accomplishments and expressing fear that youths turning out in droves for Obama might later go missing from the political process.

On Friday, Ingelido smiles at all of it: Tabers campaigning, the crush of people surrounding her, the idea that the party will unite no matter what happens in the race for the presidential nomination.

We cannot have another four years of a Republican, says Ingelido, who is working on Anna Lords campaign to win House District 21. I think, after this election, the party is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Ingelidos optimism is borne out repeatedly by other Democrats in the long day-and-a-half that follows. They brave huge lines, periodic disorganization and aggravations that come with attending the largest gathering in the state partys history.

By Sunday, headlines will focus on apparent divisions in the party. Scenes like Taber smiling as he fishes campaign cards out of a plastic shopping bag will go largely unreported.

Getting a seat at the national convention in Denver isnt easy. Aside from party leaders and a handful of elected officials with automatic superdelegate spots, most state Democrats must contend for one of 36 positions picked at congressional district meetings, or 12 more at the state convention. Taber sees his best chance coming at Friday afternoons 5th Congressional District gathering, when four delegates and an alternate will be picked.

He smiles confidently Friday afternoon when rating his chances: Im in the running, he says. Hes got youth and his work on Obamas campaign on his side.

click to enlarge Democrats pack the hallways wall-to-wall at the World Arena on Saturday. - L'AURA MONTGOMERY
  • L'Aura Montgomery
  • Democrats pack the hallways wall-to-wall at the World Arena on Saturday.
All of the 8,000 delegates who show up at Saturdays convention started the years political journey at Feb. 5 caucuses in living rooms and schools across the state. Almost all of them were picked as delegates for Clinton or Obama, and they later went to county conventions, where the process repeated and delegates were chosen for the state convention.

Saturdays event, then, is one more step in a complex and sometimes muddled game that will throw support for Clinton or Obama at the national convention. Hundreds vie for the 12 spots and two alternate positions by handing out fliers or announcing names from T-shirts and top hats. An attorney who supports Clinton has even bought an ad in a Denver political newspaper to announce her candidacy.

This stage of the game is won by the presidential contender whose supporters turn out in the greatest numbers and the delegates with the most success getting their names recognized.

Carrie Lucas, sitting in her wheelchair for much of Saturdays event just below the arenas stage, suggests its a hard game for those with disabilities. She holds a chart showing progress toward reaching the diversity goals for the delegation the party will send to Denver.

click to enlarge Chuck Bader, for Hillary Clinton. - L'AURA MONTGOMERY
  • L'Aura Montgomery
  • Chuck Bader, for Hillary Clinton.
After four congressional district conventions, the chart shows, only one delegate reporting a disability has been selected, and only one more who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The goal of four delegates with disabilities seems almost unreachable, Lucas says, and even that does not seem a fair number given the percentage of people with disabilities living in the community.

We figured we should have had 14, she says.

The layout of the arena, she adds, makes it nearly impossible to get around and talk with many delegates.

Joe Beaver, chair of Democrats with Disabilities, was selected as an Obama delegate for Congressional District 7. But he knows hes the exception. Were the most under-represented minority, he says.

Saturdays most notable events are speeches from Gov. Bill Ritter, Sen. Ken Salazar and other elected officials. The main result of the day only comes from what happens later, when about 8,000 Democrats line up around the arena to pick up ballots to vote for national delegates and others who will represent the party.

The lines become staggeringly long; the temptation is to just call it a day and leave.

Most do not, instead waiting their turn before hauling away a packet for Clinton or Obama, each listing hundreds of delegate candidates. Ingelido secures her Clinton packet relatively early, standing in the arenas concourse as she scans for names she recognizes of local delegate candidates.

The process isnt perfect, she suggests in a phone conversation days later. The ballots divide candidates by men and women to guarantee an even split in the delegation, but its hard to know which candidates are young or old, disabled or not.

There will be at least one very young delegate, though; a couple days after the convention, Taber finds out that he has, indeed, been chosen.


Heard at the arena

They say that all good things come to those who wait. Weve been waiting long enough.

State Rep. Mike Merrifield, Colorado Springs

Its a watershed year. Theres a wind that has swept through our state, and this year its sweeping across the nation. We will not allow cynicism to rule the day.

Gov. Bill Ritter

You are here to take America back. We are going to end eight years of Bush-Cheney rule This is our time. The eyes of America are on Colorado.

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar

Are you really, really ready to turn Colorado completely blue? We are unified. We are together. We are going to mop the floor with John McCain. We also need to end this war, not in 100 years, not in 10 years, but next year.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette

This election is not about all of us who have been up here today. Its about you, your children and your grandchildren.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar

Change began in 2006. We must finish that change in 2008. Theres a lot of good feeling in this room today. George Bush has taken us back to before the Magna Carta.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter

The future of America as a great nation is at great risk if we cant break our addiction to foreign oil. You only have to go to the nearest gas station to see how precarious we are. We cant afford another year of an energy policy written by the oil industry.

U.S. Senate candidate Mark Udall

When this process ends, you must pick up the banner for the Democrats. But we can only do it if we unify. This is our year. Weve got two great candidates running for president. But it is time for a woman to lead this country, after 230 years.

Terry McAuliffe, Clinton campaign chairman

El Paso County is the new capital of the Democratic Party in Colorado slowly turning from a deep and ugly red to a bright and beautiful blue.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff

I dont think Doug Lamborn is a bad man, but he needs to find a different line of work. He continues to offer yesterdays solutions for tomorrows problems.

Hal Bidlack, District 5 congressional candidate

This nation has never, in all the years, feared any challenge. But this administration has made us fearful.

Hank Eng, District 6 congressional candidate

Colorado, you are setting the tone for the rest of the United States on how to win this fall. Washington, D.C., has become the place where good ideas go to die.

Gov. Janet Napolitano, Arizona

Are we ready to change the world? (Loud cheers.) So am I.

Federico Pena, former Denver mayor and U.S. transportation secretary

Compiled by Ralph Routon


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