Grand County Republicans and Democrats will have their chance next week to say which candidates should be their parties’ respective presidential nominees, when both parties hold their first-ever caucuses on Tuesday, March 22.
A caucus is a neighborhood organizing meeting where members of a political party gather to elect precinct officers and delegates to a state convention, and to vote for which candidate in their party should receive the presidential nomination. It’s a departure from traditional primary elections, which won’t be held in Utah this year until June 28.
Grand County Republican Party chair Curtis Wells said that caucus night is “where the rubber hits the road.”
“It gives people an opportunity to serve in a leadership role as an officer or a delegate,” Wells said. “I’m particularly excited to add some new leadership to our exceptional Grand County GOP Central Committee.”
Grand County Democratic Party chairman Bob Greenberg said that, “Ordinary people will never have more of a chance to influence state and national elections than they do at their neighborhood caucus.”
But Greenberg said it’s also easy for supporters of a candidate to flood a neighborhood caucus, thereby allowing an extreme minority to make decisions.
“We’re really hoping that by having the open caucus, it won’t just be political activists that make the decisions, it will be ordinary people,” he said.
The Democratic caucus will be held at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center at 111 E. 100 North at 6 p.m. The caucus will be open to anyone who is eligible to vote, regardless of party affiliation, provided that they don’t also vote in the Republican caucus. Residents of San Juan County will also be allowed to vote.
The GOP caucus, which will be held at the Grand Center at 182 N. 500 West at 7 p.m, will only be open to registered Republicans. Republicans who wish to cast their vote for a preferred candidate will not have to actually attend the caucus; they can also vote online between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. on caucus day, or by absentee ballots.
On the Democratic side, people who caucus will have to choose between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.
Republicans have a much larger field that is currently led by billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Wells said that many Republican voters are currently undecided, but that at the caucus, those who are running for delegates will have to make their preferences known.
“We’re anticipating Trump supporters and Cruz supporters going toe to toe at this year’s caucus, although (Marco) Rubio and Kasich still have many supporters,” Wells said. “I do believe folks that want to serve as delegates will be asked who their preferred candidate is prior to precinct elections.”
Former Moab City Council candidate Kelly Mike Green told the Moab Sun News that it is still too early to decide who would be the best Republican candidate.
“We currently have four candidates who have been duking it out and it has been something to watch,” Green said.
But Green said he isn’t sure what the candidates would do to address important issues such as Obamacare, Social Security, national defense and immigration policy. He said that although a populist candidate has created a lot of excitement and controversy, “America is looking for leadership and an end to gridlock in Washington, D.C.”
Moab resident Jeramy Day was clear in his opposition to front-runner Trump, who he said is “a good, charismatic pitchman with no substance.”
“I’m a fan of Cruz,” Day said. “He’s for small government. The less government in our lives, the better.”
Day said that Cruz is outside of the establishment and that you will always know where he stands.
“I think he’ll be able to reach across the aisle,” he said.
Day also said that “sensationalism is overrunning common sense,” and that if Trump becomes the nominee, it will precipitate one of the lowest Republican turnouts ever.
On the other hand, Democrats in Grand County are more clearly aligned with one or the other of the two candidates.
Franklin Seal, who serves as vice chair of the Grand County Democratic Party, said that speaking as a private citizen, he is “thrilled to be able to cast (my) vote for Bernie Sanders.”
“For the first time in my life, I will be able to vote for a candidate that speaks in an unscripted way,” Seal said. “He seems so real, so honest.”
Seal said that Sanders cuts directly to the heart of the issue that he cares about the most – freeing the government from its ties to big corporations and Wall Street billionaires.
“I don’t see any other candidate who is willing to honestly speak about this issue,” Seal said. “Bernie has a lifetime history of calling it like it is when it comes to Wall Street and big corporations buying out politicians on both sides of the aisle.”
Local Clinton campaign volunteers Christina Sloan and Ashley Korenblat say that Clinton is the best candidate for office, based on her experience as a former U.S. senator and secretary of state.
“She knows how to solve the kind of problems she will face as president,” Korenblat said. “She will also be effective against the bigotry and backward thinking of the current Republican front-runner.”
Korenblat also said that Clinton understands the value of preserving public lands and the value that they provide to Moab’s recreation economy.
Sloan said that Clinton is also a champion of new technology and small business, and that her governing style will help unite the country.
“She runs her campaign from the perspective of love and kindness,” Sloan said. “We cannot continue to progress as a country and society from a place of hatred and division.”
Clinton supporters in Moab were recently treated to a visit by a member of her staff, and they held an event at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center on Tuesday, March 14.
The Republicans, meanwhile, will be holding their annual Lincoln Day fundraising dinner on Saturday, March 19, at Red Cliffs Lodge. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is scheduled to appear at the dinner, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is set to give the keynote speech.
Greenberg said that he is looking forward to the upcoming Democratic caucus and urged people to come out and participate.
“I think it’s really going to be fun,” Greenberg said. “We’ve got two great candidates in Bernie and Hillary and the country can’t go too far wrong with either of them.”
Day said that he believes that the upcoming caucus amounts to a “fight for the soul of the party.”
“I think it’s going to go to the convention,” he said. “In our lifetime, we’ve never seen anything like this.”
For more information about the Democratic and Republican caucuses, visit the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s official elections website at: caucus.utah.gov. The Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party and the Independent American Party have not organized caucuses in Grand County, but all three parties will be holding state conventions later this spring. More information about the conventions can be found on the state’s caucus website.
Democrats largely clear on their choices, Republicans less certain