Unprecendented turnout for both parties
In an unprecedented show of voter interest, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney racked up victories in the Gunnison County presidential caucuses on Tuesday, February 5.
Gunnison County mirrored the statewide results where Obama garnered 66 percent of the vote with Hillary Clinton bringing in 32 percent. Statewide, Romney won over 59 percent of Republicans while John McCain won 19 percent and Mike Huckabee attracted 13 percent.
Like the rest of the nation, county caucus goers turned out in record numbers to support favored candidates. "I’m just pumped this many people came," said Rebecca Rose, chairman of the Gunnison County Republican Party. Approximately 135 Republicans descended on the Fred Field Western Heritage Center in Gunnison, which hosted all of the county’s Republican precincts.
Next door, almost double the number of Democrats showed up to support their various candidates, and that didn’t include the north valley precincts that caucused closer to home.
"It’s by far the largest turnout we’ve ever had," said Democratic Party chairman Frank Venturo. According to numbers supplied by Venturo, 375 Democrats voted in the various county precincts.
Venturo’s wife and fellow organizer, Pat, said the record numbers presented a challenge. "We were a little disorganized, but hey, we’re Democrats," she joked.
The Republicans caucusing in the adjacent hall did seem less raucous. "That’s because we’re conservatives," ribbed McCain supporter Mindy Costanzo.
In the Democratic race, Obama routed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton 272 to 93 with nine people voting uncommitted and just one vote cast for another candidate (Gov. Bill Richardson).
Things were much more unsettled in the Republican camp. Mitt Romney led with 50 votes, edging Mike Huckabee who garnered 40. John McCain ended up in third with 30, and iconoclast libertarian candidate Ron Paul received 15.
Leslie Smith said she came to the caucus intending to vote for Huckabee, but switched her vote in favor of Paul at the last minute. "I like that he is pro-life and pro-marriage," she said. "I think he has a lot of Christian beliefs that are silenced in politics today."
Ed Slaughenhaupt said he voted for Huckabee, even though he was somewhat unimpressed with the available field. "He’s the most complete conservative out of the group," he said.
But Amy Perry may have summed up why Romney came out on top. "I feel he has the fewest negatives," she said.
Romney, like Obama, ran a vigorous campaign in Colorado, and by 10 p.m. the New York Times was already naming the two the overwhelming victors for the state.
Dallas Blaney said he was casting his lot with Obama because of his "electability." "I think he has the best chance of winning," he said. "I think Hillary will energize the Republican base in a way Obama won’t," he added.
Sarah Tharp was also an Obama supporter. "He just seems like a down to earth, collected guy," she said. Tharp was also worried about Clinton’s ability to win the general election. "I think there are still a lot of people who are afraid of a woman being in charge," she added.
But most Democrats seemed pleased to have two strong candidates, and Clinton got some support—especially among women. Sharon Schlegel said she’s been impressed with Clinton ever since she heard her speak during her husband’s first presidential run.
"I heard her speaking on a lot of issues, and I remember thinking ‘I wish I were voting for her,’" she said.
The next step in the election is the county conventions/assemblies. The Gunnison County Democrats Assembly/Convention will be held on February 24. The Republican General Assembly will be held on March 5.