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Utah caucuses: Delegates are a force to reckon with
By Cathy McKitrick
The Salt Lake Tribune
Published March 23, 2008 12:56 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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Tuesday could be a big night in Utah politics. And any registered voter can get involved.

It's caucus time for the Republican and Democratic parties. Whoever shows up Tuesday night gets to elect delegates who then vote at county and state conventions in April and May to narrow multicandidate races.

"The world is run by those who show up," says Todd Taylor, executive director of Utah's Democratic Party. "Unfortunately, far too few show up. We want people to join us in running the world -- many hands make light work."

This is one area where Utah Republicans and Democrats agree.

''I am not aware of a more important way to be involved in the political process than to attend your caucus and to choose good people to be your delegates,'' said Stan Lockhart, state Republican Party chairman. "The real power and influence of the party is determined at those meetings."

Jason Chaffetz, former chief of staff to Gov. Jon Huntsman, is keenly aware of the importance of the caucuses. He is one of four Republican candidates hoping to dislodge GOP Rep. Chris Cannon from Utah's 3rd Congressional District.

"I've spent the last 15 months laying the groundwork so that we get the right people elected at those caucuses," Chaffetz said. "We've tried to turn our grass-roots organization into a grass fire."

Chaffetz also knows that he and other candidates can get their hands on delegate lists late next week. Then the real wooing begins.

As a delegate - "For at least a month or two, you get a whole bunch of new best friends," Lockhart said. "Candidates will call you on the phone, send you mail, knock on your door to visit, take you out for a meal. And that's interesting."

While committed to gaining delegate votes, Chaffetz said he has personal limits. "I'll spend $70 to $80 per delegate -- just under $100,000 leading up to convention," Chaffetz said, referring to the costs involved with organizing meetings and sending out mailers. "But I'm not buying anybody a free lunch."

"There will always be candidates and special interest groups out there working to get people elected as candidates," said the GOP's Lockhart.

Empowered by last year's win over vouchers, the grass-roots Utahns for Public Schools (UTPS) has worked since early March to spread the word about the caucus process.

"One of the best ways to have an impact is to go to caucuses," said UTPS spokeswoman Lisa Johnson, who is a candidate for a state House seat. "Sometimes the caucusgoers are more active and hold extreme views, so more participation by everyday citizens ensures better representation in government."

Johnson's first caucus experience happened two years ago.

"I Googled the party and called the phone number," Johnson said. "I found the people welcoming, and it's a great way to get involved."

For folks like Clark Aposhian, it would seem odd to do otherwise.

''I've been hands-on with the nuts and bolts of the Republican party for a long time,'' Aposhian said.

Aposhian chairs the Utah Shooting Sports Council, the largest gun-rights group in Utah.

Delegates - a relatively small number of people - can sometimes determine which candidate survives a Republican race, Aposhian noted. And in GOP strongholds, that translates into essentially naming November's winner.

"It speaks to a huge importance of the caucus attendees and delegates," Aposhian said. "It can make or break a candidacy right there."

In the District 75 House race that spans fast-growing Washington County, there's no doubt that GOP delegates will decide the outcome, as four Republicans filed but no other party fielded a candidate.

"You have much greater influence than when you go to the polls in November," Lockhart said. "You get to vote more than once."

For Utah Democrats - in the minority - numbers are beginning to climb and enthusiasm is running high.

"A lot of that is young people getting more engaged than I've seen . . . ever," said state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland. "And we're seeing Republicans who are coming to run as Democrats or want to help get Democrats elected."

Holland believes Democrats can make inroads into GOP-dominated territory this year because of disgust over Republican arrogance at the state and national levels.

Tuesday's caucuses are where it all starts.

"People have sat on the sidelines hoping for change," Holland said. "And now they're deciding to become part of the solution."

cmckitrick@sltrib.com

WHAT IS A CAUCUS?

A political caucus is a meeting of members of a party to choose delegates. The thousands who are expected to attend local caucuses Tuesday night in Utah will elect delegates from among the groups. The delegates then vote at county and state conventions in April and May to narrow multicandidate races. Statewide, 3,500 Republican delegates will be chosen and 2,703 Democratic delegates.

* WHO CAN CAUCUS?

For Republicans , any voter who is unaffiliated or registered as a Republican can participate in a caucus. However, only registered Republicans can be elected as delegates. Affiliation sign-up forms will be available at caucus locations.

For Democrats, the field is wide open as long as the person turns 18 and can register to vote by November's general election. Registered Democrats, unaffiliated voters, even registered Republicans can vote for and be elected as delegates.

* Races with more than one Republican candidate: 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts, governor, state treasurer, 8 Senate, 29 House seats.

* Races with more than one Democratic candidate: governor, three Senate, 13 House seats.

The process:

* Neighborhood caucuses Tuesday at 7 p.m. - where party delegates get elected.

* County conventions staggered through April and early May - where delegates vote to narrow multicandidate legislative races.

* State conventions held May 10 - where state delegates vote to winnow the field of candidates in statewide races, including gubernatorial, U.S. Congressional and state legislative races that span more than one county.

(If no candidate receives more than 60 percent of the delegate vote, the nomination is decided through a primary.)

* Primary election June 24.

* General election Nov. 4.

* Confused about the caucus?

For more information online: http://www.utdemocrats.org and http://www.utgop.org, utahnsforpublicschools.org.

* Where can I caucus?

Call the state Democratic Committee at 801-328-1212, or the state Republican Party at 801-533-9777 or 800-230-UTAH.



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