In some states, voters go to the polls to choose a party candidates in what is called a “primary.” In other states, they caucus.
With a still unsettled three-way primary fight appearing to be headed for a contested convention in July, Colorado’s GOP assemblies over the next week offer Donald Trump and Ted Cruz a major opportunity to win a significant pile of delegates chosen almost completely by party insiders. Now, it’s up to the three candidates to convince the party to pick delegates who promise to vote in their favor.
“It’s chaos. It’s a cluster. It’s the ultimate insider’s game,” said Josh Penry, a GOP operative in Denver who chaired Marco Rubio’s campaign in Colorado. “There are so many delegates in play.”
As I may have mentioned a time or two before, Colorado voters are a little offbeat. We like our Republicans to be traditional conservatives with a touch of Good Ol’ Boy — to win they need to earn support from socially conservative Colorado Springs/southern Colorado, and the libertarian-leaning ranchers and farmers out on the Western Slope.
And we like our Democrats to be just plain weird. Colorado gave you Gary Hart, the Democrat who called for bringing back the draft while memories of LBJ were still sharp, and who got caught cavorting like JFK on a boat called Monkey Business. We sent Richard Lamm, aka assisted-suicide promoter “Governor Gloom,” to the executive mansion three times, even though he had led the effort to get Denver’s 1976 Winter Olympics taken away, and then campaigned on an explicitly anti-growth platform.
Our weirdness doesn’t stop there though.
Coloradans also have a penchant for wacky billionaires. In ’92 and in ’96, Colorado voters chose Ross Perot by a bigger percentage than voters in any other state.
If you think I’m setting up the Colorado state convention as a Trump vs. Cruz fight, don’t be too sure. Coloradans like to do the unexpected, so who knows — we might just give Kasich a fighting shot at this thing, too.
But what thing?
Colorado used to be a caucus state, and it still is for the Democrats. Even our Democrats like outsiders so much that Bernie Sanders trounced Hillary Clinton here by almost 1.5 to 1. But here’s what happened to the GOP caucus:
Colorado will not vote for a Republican candidate for president at its 2016 caucus after party leaders approved a little-noticed shift that may diminish the state’s clout in the most open nomination contest in the modern era.
The GOP executive committee has voted to cancel the traditional presidential preference poll after the national party changed its rules to require a state’s delegates to support the candidate that wins the caucus vote.
The Not So Nice Version™ of the story is that the GOP leadership cancelled its own primary out of fear that the result might reflect the will of actual GOP voters.
The Politico story I quoted at the top goes on to report:
Cruz confirmed Monday that he will attend the Colorado GOP’s state assembly on April 9. And Trump and Kasich are also tentatively planning to attend the confab of roughly 6,000 party activists in Colorado Springs, where 27 of the state’s 34 delegates to the Republican National Convention will be elected.
“We got a lot of flak when we nixed the caucus straw poll. Now, Colorado comes out looking like geniuses because we’re probably going to get all three presidential candidates to our state convention,” said Chris Murray, general counsel to the Colorado GOP.
“Wile E. Coyote, Super Geeeeeenius” thinking aside, the Colorado GOP is playing with fire. What we have is a game that looks like it’s been rigged for an insider to steal, and two outsider weirdos — the kind of candidates we love — battling for support. No matter who wins, supporters of the losing candidates will feel like they got ripped off by the state party apparatus.
And knowing my neighbors the way I do, they’ll be nursing that grievance all the way to Cleveland in July.
What a state. What a party. What a mess.
I came here 20 years ago for the mountain sunsets, but I stayed for the crazy.