Colorado officially kicked off its election season on Tuesday at major-party precinct caucuses held in living rooms and churches around the state.
Precincts are the smallest political subdivisions in the state — usually about a thousand people — and the caucuses are the first steps for candidates to get their names on the ballots.
Colorado is one of only a few states that still use the caucus system and this year, all eyes on are Republicans, who are fielding several candidates hoping to unseat Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.
Caucuses are like neighborhood political meetings at which delegates are selected to go on to the county assemblies, party platforms are debated and discussed, and political organizing gets under way.
Candidates are often on hand for intimate one-on-one discussions with voters and to leverage their support. Assembly delegates will vote for candidates to appear on the parties’ primary ballots.
“The caucuses allow grassroots activists to meet and work with their neighbors to decide the direction of our party, our state and our nation,” Colorado GOP party spokesman Owen Loftus said in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“It’s a great chance for the people who are interested in the process but want to talk to their friends and neighbors face-to-face about issues,” Democratic state Sen. Andy Kerr told the Denver Post. “If you walk into a voting booth, you’re by yourself. At caucuses, you have a discourse with people interested in the same topics.”
Kerr is planning to visit caucuses in his district, but others can be forgiven for skipping it as a mere formality — Democrats don’t have any contested races this year.
Republicans, however, are lining up for their chance to challenge Hickenlooper and Udall, as well as Democrats holding several state legislative seats. Seven Republicans are competing for the gubernatorial nomination. As the first statewide election after a Democratic-dominated 2013 legislative session, Republicans hope to shift the balance of power to be more in their favor.
Candidates aren’t required to follow the caucus and assembly model for getting their names on a primary ballot. They can also collect signatures and petition their way on.
One feature of the caucuses that won’t happen this year is a statewide straw poll indicating the level of support for each of the candidates for governor and senate. Loftus said county chairs asked to skip it.
“While we won’t be having a statewide preference poll this year, candidates are busy courting caucus goers to run as delegates to county and state assemblies, in order to secure a slot on the primary ballot,” he said.
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