Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Putting the ‘party’ in political party

Blaine County GOP prepares for first caucus

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Republicans will host the county's first-ever GOP caucus in March, taking the place of a state-run primary vote that would have been held in May.

The Idaho Republican State Central Committee met in Moscow last summer and voted to change the form of the presidential preliminary elections from a primary election for all local, state and federal officials to a presidential-only caucus that will be held on Super Tuesday.

The idea, according to party officials, was to give Idaho a chance to weigh in on the presidential nomination before there was a presumptive nominee.

"By the time it got to Idaho, the decision was pretty well made," said Blaine County Republicans Chair Ed Terrazas. "Super Tuesday is really when most of the votes will be cast, and that's when we will have a good handle on who the nominee will be."

Idaho sends 32 delegates to the Republican National Convention, more than Iowa, New Hampshire or Nevada. Five presidential candidates have filed to vie for Idaho's convention delegates: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.

Idaho Republican Party Executive Director Jonathan Parker said candidates are likely to begin launching their Idaho campaigns within the next two weeks.

"I heard from Santorum's campaign asking about our television markets," Parker said Tuesday, adding that Romney has planned a visit to Boise on Feb. 17.

Terrazas said candidates don't typically spend a lot of time in Idaho, but the earlier caucus may provoke more action.

"Basically, Idaho is a state that is pretty Republican," he said. "They don't spend a lot of time in Idaho. [But] I would not be surprised to see some visit Boise."

Unlike a primary election, which has voting times from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., voters participating in a caucus must show up at a central location at a set time.

Terrazas said Blaine County voters will gather at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, at the Wood River Middle School in Hailey. Voting will begin at 7 p.m., but Terrazas said one of the most interesting parts of a caucus occurs in the pre-vote discussion.

Voters will divide into groups based on the candidates they support, and will have the opportunity to try and convince supporters of other candidates to switch loyalties.

"When you go in to vote for a primary, you go into a voting booth by yourself, you mark your ballot, you hand it to the [pollster] and you're gone," he said. "Normally, you don't sit and discuss your vote. Maybe at the coffeehouse earlier, but not at the polling place."

In fact, trying to convince someone to change his or her vote is known as electioneering, and is illegal at polling places nationwide—but the rules are different for a caucus.

Caucuses are also different in that they feature runoff votes. If a candidate receives less than 15 percent of the vote in the first round, he or she is eliminated and voters can re-cast their votes in the next round. This process continues until one candidate receives 51 percent of the vote.

Terrazas said he was not sure how many voters would show up at the caucus, due to Blaine County's traditionally Democratic-leaning sentiments.

"In 2008, there were 1,176 [Democratic] voters that showed up," he said. "I'm not sure the enthusiasm will be as intense, but it should be a good turnout for Republicans."

Katherine Wutz:

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