GOP draws a surprising turnout" and a split between McCain, Romney | SummitDaily.com

GOP draws a surprising turnout" and a split between McCain, Romney

John Colson
Pitkin County Correspondent

Republican activists in Pitkin County were stunned when approximately 125

people showed up at the party’s county caucus meeting Tuesday night and

split their support between presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt

Romney.

The caucus, like others across the state, held a “presidential preference

poll” early in the meeting.

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With 115 ballots cast, the caucus participants gave 47 votes each to McCain

and Romney, with Ron Paul receiving 16 and Mike Huckabee 5. The results were

to be sent by 9 p.m. to the statewide Republican party, to be tallied with

results from all around the state.

As of press deadline Tuesday night, Romney, the former governor of

Massachusetts, was projected to have won the Republican caucuses by a margin

of 3-2 over McCain, the senator from Arizona, as well as beating Huckabee

and Paul.

At stake in Colorado are 43 Republican and 55 Democratic delegates, to be

selected through the assembly and convention system. The caucus preference

polls were nonbinding, and in fact Jackson County declined to hold a

preference poll at all, according to the 9 News election center coverage.

Colorado voters won’t select presidential delegates until the major parties

have their conventions in May.

The number of Republicans at the Pitkin County caucus was at least as big a

story as the presidential preference poll.

Pitkin County is known as a stronghold of Democrats and liberal voters in an

otherwise conservative state. It often is stated that the Republican party

in Pitkin County is relatively moribund, but Tuesday’s turnout indicated

otherwise.

The crowd overwhelmed the meeting room at the Aspen Square hotel and

condominium complex near the base of Aspen Mountain, to the point where

caucus officials sent an entire table of participants downstairs to provide

space for the gathering to breathe.

Most of those in the room never had been to a caucus meeting before. One

party activist said only about a half-dozen people showed up at the most

recent Republican caucus, that took place last year to conduct party

business.

“We’ve always been active, we’ve always voted,” said Jerry Kehle, a

transplant from California who now lives in Aspen, adding that he was

“curious about how the caucus process works” and so he decided to check it

out.

Roy Wiedinmeyer, originally from Pennsylvania, also came out of curiosity,

noting, “I didn’t know there were this many Republicans in Pitkin County.”

Some came to the caucus out of a fervent commitment to a particular

candidate, such as Bill Wessen, who said this was his first time at a

caucus.

He came, he said, “because I feel the future of our country is at stake.”

Most people do not understand the U.S. monetary system, or that “our lives

are controlled by the Federal Reserve, which is not federal and has no

reserves,” he said.

He supports the candidacy of Ron Paul, he said, and he feels that if Paul is

not elected president, “the republic that America was founded as will no

longer exist, and our personal freedoms will be gone.”

Relative newcomer Melanie Sturm said she moved to Aspen from Washington,

D.C., “where I frankly didn’t have much of a voice,” and was elected captain

of her precinct.

She said she “felt proud to be part of this process in America,” although

she hopes to bring a greater degree of organization to future caucus

meetings and to encourage broader discussion of issues and ideas than took

place Tuesday.

And array of munchies and soft drinks were served at 5 p.m., and

participants had been sitting around tables talking politics and socializing

for an hour or more when the meeting was opened with the recitation of the

Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer.

That was followed by the election of precinct captains for the dozen

precincts in the county, and county Republican Party Chairwoman Linda

McCausland was re-elected by popular acclaim.

Third Congressional District candidate Wayne Wolf, from Cedaredge, is

running against incumbent Rep. John Salazar, a Democrat, and Libertarian

Steven McDufffie. Wolf spoke briefly to the gathering, before the

presidential preference poll began, as did local Republican Tony Ansbro, in

support of Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s bid for the presidency, and Kay

Singer, in support of Romney.

But the caucus never got around to actually discussing the congressional

race, nor were there any discussions concerning proposals for the state

party platform, although both topics were on the agenda.

McCausland, who did what she could to manage the unexpectedly large meeting,

indicated she would have liked to call for a discussion of issues and races.

But when asked why that did not happen, she replied, “Would you have wanted

to get this room to sit still for all that?”

She said she was happy with the turnout alone, pointing out, “I think, with

all the enthusiasm that we got, we’ll just keep going.”

Near the end of the meeting, a young woman weaving her way through the

thinning crowd said, “I had to come to see how many Republican there

actually are in Pitkin County. I’m happily surprised.”

She declined to reveal her name, saying with a smile, “That would be

detrimental to my job.”

jcolson@aspentimes.com