Steamboat Springs Local Republican and Democratic party officials may be divided on the issues facing voters and the candidates best suited for office, but they agree there is a special buzz in the air for today's caucuses.
Whether it's unprecedented national political attention focused on Colorado because of the earliest caucus in state history, two closely contested races for presidential nomination or the number of hot-button issues on the minds of voters, party leaders expect record turnout tonight.
Usually held in April, today's caucus joins Colorado with 23 other states holding primaries or caucuses on "Super Tuesday." Today's results will be pivotal for the hopes of presidential candidates in both major parties.
"We are early enough this year for our vote to count," said Lynn Abbott, communications director for Routt County Democrats. "In the past, almost always, the decision was made by the media or the delegate count about who is going to be the nominee in each party. When we finally had our decision-making time, it was a moot point. It didn't seem to count."
Abbott noted that caucuses are always an interesting affair regardless of the national spotlight.
"Working at the grass-roots level is the heart and soul of what is happening here," she said. "It gives a chance for people to stand up and say, 'This is the reason I believe in this person and why.'"
Vance Halvorson, chairman of the Routt County Republican Central Committee, perceives a general sense of political engagement in Routt County that he hasn't felt in a long time.
"I definitely feel there is more buzz in terms of what is going on," he said. "Despite the lack of a lot of local competing races, the national political race is what is driving the buzz.
"I also believe the Republican Party has galvanized. : One of the things that has happened, we have at least three favorably viewed candidates. We are getting down to the shades of gray. A lot of people want to know more about candidates and to know what their positions are."
Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, a Democrat, said caucuses provide the perfect setting for undecided voters to gather the information needed to choose a candidate.
"It's a chance to sit down and talk to neighbors about issues," she said. "I like the folksy part of it. The intent is for it to be a neighborhood meeting."
Caucus-goers will cast their preferences for presidential candidates - the Republicans by a simple straw poll and Democrats by a more complex process.
Democrats will separate into preference groups for each candidate. If any group does not have 15 percent of the caucus participants, its members have an opportunity to join another group or remain undecided. Results from both parties will be reported to the state party that night.
Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said to participate in the caucuses, voters need only to have registered with their party by Dec. 5, 2007, and must be a resident of their precinct for at least 30 days.
"There is more enthusiasm in caucuses than we have ever had," said Weinland, who noted that voters should call the Clerk and Recorder's Office at 870-5556 to make sure they have registered with a political party and they know the location of their caucus.
"I think that politics in general just have people involved and more enthused," she said. "We have received a tremendous volume of calls at the office."
Harris Reitman-Swiff, 23, is participating in his first caucus after previously voting in the 2004 presidential primaries in Florida.
"I think it's a fascinating process and a very community-oriented setting," he said. "You lose some privacy aspect of it with everyone knowing who you vote for, but you gain a participatory piece that seem to involve the community more. An open debate is at the heart of any democracy."
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