• Last modified 2733 days ago (Feb. 23, 2012)


Hands-on democracy

In February 2008, while I was still working in Blackfoot, Idaho, I was assigned to cover the local Democratic Party presidential caucus. The field was down to two candidates: then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

I’d never seen anything quite like it in the political arena. In primaries and general elections, campaigning for one candidate over another is unwelcome. But at the caucus, it wasn’t just welcomed, it was encouraged almost to the level of being the whole point of the caucus.

Caucuses are entirely different from a primary system for nominating candidates. They take a bigger time commitment than just going to a polling place and casting a vote, so turnout is lower than in a primary — there were maybe 100 people at that 2008 caucus, out of a county of about 40,000 people — but the people who show up are that much more dedicated to their candidate.

Primaries and general elections are much more clinical, although the campaigning isn’t, and by the time the parties convene for their national conventions, there won’t be any surprises who the nominee will be — the biggest surprise might be a late announcement of a vice presidential running mate.

I would encourage anyone who identifies with a political party to participate in a caucus, at least as long as there is a meaningful choice to be made. I really doubt there will be much debate on candidates at the Democratic Party caucuses, scheduled for April 14. But there are meaningful choices in the Republican Party race.

I hope Kansans will still have a meaningful choice to make in the Republican Party caucuses, scheduled for March 10. This year’s “Super Tuesday” primaries will be earlier that same week, with Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia going to the polls March 6. The race may not remain competitive after those states’ delegates are awarded.

If the race is competitive after Super Tuesday, any registered Republican could do themselves a favor by investing a couple of hours getting experience in the process that goes deeper than stepping in a voting booth or putting up yard signs.


Last modified Feb. 23, 2012