A Cold Night at the Colorado Caucuses

Residents of the People’s Republic of Boulder (Colorado) and its surrounding areas braved single-digit temperatures and blowing snow to go to Democratic and Republican caucuses on Tuesday night.  This is a county with substantially higher Democrat registration than Republican; Boulder County voted over 66% for John Kerry in 2004 in a state which gave Bush nearly 52% overall.

Even so, when I stopped by the Democratic caucus after attending my Republican caucus, the difference in participation and enthusiasm between the two was stunning. While realizing that I live in a distinctly non-representative area, the evening strengthens my great concern about the electability of any Republican in November.

The Republican caucus for my area was held in a modestly-sized “multi-purpose room” at the town’s recreation center.  The total head count: 58 people coming from 6 precincts. (The seventh precinct had nobody attend.)  For most of the precincts, the total list of registered Republicans could fit (one name per line) on one sheet of paper.  The median age in the room was well over 50.

My precinct had all of 6 participants. The count, when it came to presidential preference, was 3 for John McCain, 2 for Mitt Romney, 1 for Ron Paul.  The total for the room came in at 26 Romney, 18 Paul, 10 McCain, 3 Mike Huckabee, and 1 for Alan Keyes. (I had forgotten there was a worse choice than Huckabee.)  Overall, Colorado Republicans voted roughly 60% for Romney, 19% for McCain, 13% for Huckabee, and 8% for Paul.

Romney’s success in Colorado is not a big surprise.  Almost the entire GOP establishment, including Bill Owens (the popular former governor), former congressman Bob Beauprez, and billionaire Bruce Benson have endorsed Romney.

Within my group of six, I asked what their second choices would be if their preferred candidate weren’t running.  Three of the six named Ron Paul as their second choice, with no other candidate getting more than one of the six people.  The only people who seemed particularly energized or who were wearing candidate pins were Ron Paul supporters. 

These anecdotes say a lot about the state of the Republican electorate in that most of us are uninspired by our political menu except for the people supporting the one candidate with no chance of winning.  You have to admire their enthusiasm even if you don’t share their choice. But it also serves to highlight the lack of passion for the candidates who could become our nominee.

We spent time voting in our groups on whether we support resolutions which may make it to the Colorado ballot, including Ward Connerly’s “Civil Rights Initiative”, some questions about immigration, English as an official language, a balanced budget amendment, and repealing ethanol mandates and subsidies.  And while the discussion about these items got the room slightly animated, it still seemed like the lonely and uninspired affair I rather expected a Republican caucus, especially in my neighborhood, and especially this year, to be.

The Democratic caucus at the local high school could not have been a more different scene.  Unlike the three dozen cars parked outside the GOP caucus building, there were at least two hundred cars filling the parking lot and lining the road. News reports from elsewhere in the state described Democrat caucus locations as overflowing and this was no exception.

Highly energetic attendees were carrying signs and wearing Hillary or Obama pins and t-shirts. Whereas we Republicans struggled to get people interested in being “precinct committeemen” or delegates to the county convention, the Democrats were competing to be elected as delegates and were being congratulated by their friends upon election. The median age was at least 20 years younger than among Republican caucusers.

It was a big night for Obama in Colorado and my area was no exception.  One precinct, with 128 votes (yes, more than twice the total GOP turnout for 7 precincts), went 88 for Obama, 38 for Hillary Clinton, and only 2 undecided. In the next room, another precinct went 64 for Obama and 22 for Hillary. Overall, not far from the 67% to 32% victory for Obama statewide.

The money and the votes were highly correlated in Colorado. Without speculating on which is the cart and which the horse, Romney raised more than twice as much money as McCain did in Colorado (through the end of 2007) and received about three times as many votes. Barack Obama raised about 1.4 times as much as Hillary Clinton (though I imagine that number will increase when the most recent reports are filed) and received more than twice the votes she did.

The Democrat caucus rooms were buzzing with energy and excitement in a way that, despite realizing that the People’s Republic of Boulder is not representative of the real world, makes it easy to believe that the turnout imbalance in November will make it unlikely that a Republican can win. Indeed, with just 15% of the precincts reporting state-wide, the Democrats had already passed the total number of votes cast in their 2004 caucuses. Overall, almost twice as many Democrats voted in the caucuses as Republicans, in a state that has a 35% to 30% Republican registration advantage (and closed caucuses.)

John McCain’s popularity has peaked at just the right time for him in the nomination process and therefore just the wrong time for the GOP to have a strong chance to keep the White House in 2007. His ratings will fall as his misrepresentations (such as in the last GOP debate), his shenanigans (such as in the West Virginia primary), and his self-professed lack of understanding of economics become more widely known. The last thing the GOP needs when the country is worried about recession is a nominee who answers the question “Why should Americans trust you with the economy?” by saying “Because I supported the surge”.  But that’s what you get when you pull McCain’s string.

Unfortunately for Republicans, this looks a lot like 1992: Then, we had a recession and a President named Bush who was (deservedly?) blamed for it.  Now we have another President named Bush whose party will be saddled with the unfortunate timing of a downturn in the business cycle in an election year. One important difference: The GOP will not pick up seats in Congress this time and is already in the minority, making the risks, to our liberty and our economy, of electing a Democratic president far greater.  If tonight’s results in Colorado are any measure, that risk is looking more and more likely to become reality.