Cary Kennedy wins Democratic caucus for governor with 50 percent of vote, Jared Polis carries Summit County |

Cary Kennedy wins Democratic caucus for governor with 50 percent of vote, Jared Polis carries Summit County

Cary Kennedy won the Democratic caucus for governor by a wide margin Tuesday night, winning 50 percent of the vote and nearly running the table in the state's most populous counties. The results are a sign of early enthusiasm for Kennedy's run, but the nomination race is far from over as the Democratic candidates vie for spots on the June primary ballot.

"I am so grateful for the incredible showing of support," Kennedy said in a Wednesday morning news release after the results were tallied. "I could feel the momentum building as I traveled the state."

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis came in second place with 32.5 percent statewide, including 54.3 percent of the vote in Summit County, which is part of his congressional district. All three off Summit's county commissioners are backing the Boulder Democrat.

Mike Johnston, a former state Senator from Vail, came in third statewide with just under nine percent, although he has already submitted enough petition signatures to qualify for the June primary.

Businessman and political newcomer Noel Ginsburg brought in two percent of the statewide total. Lieutenant governor Donna Lynne is petitioning onto the ballot and did not participate.

Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier spoke on behalf of Polis during Tuesday night's precinct caucuses at Summit Middle School, which drew nearly 100 voters and gave local candidates some face time with the party faithful.

Recommended Stories For You

"We have an incredible slate of candidates, it's really amazing," she said. "I am committed to supporting Jared Polis for many reasons," including his support for Medicare for all, environmental advocacy and willingness to take on the gun lobby.

Local photographer John Fielder spoke on behalf of Kennedy, whom he argued would give Democrats a better chance of retaining the Governor's Mansion in November.

"I don't think Jared Polis can get elected on a statewide basis, which is why I'm supporting Cary Kennedy," he said. "Her relatively moderate positions make her electable."

Kennedy, a former State Treasurer, captured 31 percent of the Summit County caucus vote. Johnston came in distant third with 4.3 percent, while long shot candidate Erik Underwood picked up 1.4 percent.

Kennedy won more statewide votes in Tuesday's night's poll than all other candidates combined, but the tally is more of early bellwether for rank-and-file preference. The more than 23,100 voters who caucused last night represent only two percent of Colorado Democrats.

Candidates vying for a spot on the June primary ballot must get at least 30 percent of the delegates at the party's state assembly on April 14 to qualify. They can also collect signatures to petition onto the ballot or try both routes, as Polis and Johnston are.

But while the gubernatorial preference poll was as the top of Tuesday's agenda, most of the floor time ended up going to local candidates who used the opportunity to address voters and distribute campaign literature. Opposition party enthusiasm was in the air, with several candidates hinting at a possible "blue wave" in the midterm elections.

Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, running for his third and final term, talked up his support for affordable housing, healthcare and environmental stewardship but drew his biggest applause with a call for stricter gun control measures.

"The fact that you're here shows that you have a commitment to our local community," Gibbs told the crowd. "But grab your neighbors, grab those folks that aren't active voters. We need everyone this November. We can't take anything for granted."

Julie McCluskie, who is currently running unopposed for Summit County's Colorado House of Representatives seat, touted her local ties and experience in a previous lieutenant governor's office. Rep. Millie Hamner, who is term-limited, endorsed McCluskie as her replacement.

"Caring about and hoping for good things isn't enough," McCluskie said. "I'm ready to get to work for all of you."

Candidates for non-political office also took the opportunity to plug their runs. Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, who will face challenger Derek Woodman for a second time this November, touted his mental health record, which includes helping bring a crisis stabilization unit and child advocacy center to Summit. (FitzSimons is up for re-election early because he was elected to complete the remainder of former sheriff John Minor's term in 2016).

"I've come too far to abandon the changes I've fought for in the past 16 months," he said.

The mood Tuesday night was upbeat, even as groups of neighbors gathered for the somewhat tedious process of selecting delegates to the county assembly in March.

Voters were generally pleased with all of the candidates from the top of the ticket down, a sharp contrast to the last contest between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in 2016. That caucus, held at the Summit County Community and Senior Center, quickly filled to capacity, prompting the party to change venues this year.

"We wanted however many people who wanted to participate in this event to be able to and to have ample room, be able to hear, be able to talk with their neighbors and have it be a true caucus process," said Maggie O'Brien, chair of the Summit County Democrats. "So that's why we went with a larger venue and we're really pleased with how it turned out.”

Republican precinct caucuses       

The Summit County Republicans held their 2018 precinct caucus at the Silverthorne Pavilion Tuesday evening to elect precinct committee persons and delegates to the Republican county assembly on March 17.

Just under 40 registered Republicans participated as turnout was typically low during a non-presidential election year. Recent changes to Colorado GOP caucus rules may have also dampened turnout, as straw polls for governor and other offices are no longer tallied at the precinct level. Instead, candidates are expected to lobby for committed delegates at the county assembly.

Attending the caucus were elected Summit Republicans including county coroner Regan Wood and surveyor Gary Wilkinson, who both gave short speeches. Former undersheriff Derek Woodman, who is making his second run for sheriff after a close loss in 2016 to Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, gave a fiery speech blasting FitzSimons' management of the sheriff's office while promising to "restore" integrity to local law enforcement.

Summit County GOP Chairman Kim McGahey said he was happy with the turnout and enthusiasm of his fellow Republicans.

"I'm very upbeat about the number and quality of people who showed up," McGahey said. "These are people who care about our county, our state, and our country. These are the grassroots activists that roll up their sleeves and get to work every day of the year to make sure we're represented well, the way Thomas Jefferson and James Madison envisioned we'd be represented."

The Summit County Republican Assembly will take place at 9 a.m. on March 17 in the Summit Community and Senior Center, located at 83 Nancy's Place in Frisco.

-Deepan Dutta, Summit Daily News